Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
A remarkable tale of immigrant success, wrapped around a crime story.
September is upon us. Kids are back to school. Film critics are off to film festivals (and, on that note, watch for dozens of pieces from Venice, Telluride, Toronto, New York and Chicago in the coming weeks, including many by yours truly.) The Fall TV season is upon us. But maybe you're not interested in the rather mediocre slate of new programs offered by the broadcast nets and we're still more than a month from HBO's "Westworld." You need something to watch, right? Well, that's where we step in. First, there are ten new offerings on Netflix, most of which fall under the "indie" or "sleeper" banner, then we have a dozen new Blu-ray offerings from all over the map, and, finally, three movies still in theaters that you can order now on VOD. Who needs film festivals when you've got us?
10 NEW TO NETFLIX
12 NEW ON BLU-RAY
"Chimes at Midnight" (Criterion)
"The Immortal Story" (Criterion)
The big Blu-ray event of the season is the Criterion remastering of two of Orson Welles' later films, 1965's "Chimes at Midnight" and 1968's "The Immortal Story." The former was initially dismissed on theatrical release but has become one of Welles' most beloved films, notoriously considered the director's best by Welles himself. That's right, he thought "Chimes at Midnight," his take on William Shakespeare's Falstaff, was better than "Citizen Kane," "The Magnificent Ambersons," "The Lady from Shanghai," "Touch of Evil" and "F for Fake." The Criterion restoration of the film is stunning, rich in depth without losing the grain that's essential to the experience. It looks fantastic. And the film resonated more for me this time than on previous viewings. I think it's a work that improves with age (not the film's, the viewer's). It also helps that the Criterion package is loaded with great special features, especially an informative commentary from Welles expert James Naremore, along with new interviews with key players.
"The Immortal Story" may not be as essential a Welles film as "Chimes at Midnight" but it's still a nice addition to the collection, especially for collectors of Welles works. Originally broadcast on television and running only 58 minutes, "The Immortal Story" is Welles' first film in color and his last fictional movie (at least until "The Other Side of the Wind" finally gets put together). Again, Criterion loads up the release with informative features that don't feel like mere padding. You also get an essay by one of the world's most intelligent Welles experts, Chicago's very own Jonathan Rosenbaum.
Special Features - "Chimes at Midnight"
Audio Commentary Featuring Film Scholar James Naremore, Author of The Magic World Of Orson Welles
New Interview With Actor Keith Baxter
New Interview With Director Orson Welle's Daughter Beatrice Welles, Who Appeared In The Film At Age Nine
New Interview With Film Historian Joseph Mcbride, Author of What ever Happened to Orson Welles?
Interview With Welles While at Work Editing The Film, from A 1965 Episode of The Merv Griffin Show
Plus: An Essay By Film Scholar Michael Anderegg
Special Features - "The Immortal Story"
Audio Commentary From 2009 Featuring Film Acholar Adrian Martin
Portrait: Orson Welles, A 1968 Documentary Directed By Francois Reichembach And Frederic Rossif
New Interview With Actor Norman Eshley
Interview With Wells Scholar Franois Thomas.
Plus: An Essay By Film Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum
Martin Brest's buddy comedy dropped into theaters at the height of the macho action-comedy. The '80s was at least partially defined by the genre, in everything from "48 Hours" to "Lethal Weapon." But I hear more about this Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin classic than most of the films of its era and Shout Factory has just released an excellent special edition Blu-ray to capitalize on the continued fame. Why has it lasted while other films of the era look dated? First, it's smart. The dialogue by George Gallo is clever and crisp, and De Niro and Grodin have fantastic chemistry. Second, Brest's pacing is phenomenal, constantly keeping his story of a bounty hunter and his "final job" moving. There are elements that do seem a bit too much of their era (Danny Elfman's score) but what works here vastly outweighs that which does not.
NEW Being Jack Walsh - An Interview With Actor Robert De Niro
NEW 2k Scan From The Interpositive
We've Got The Duke - An Interview With Actor Charles Grodin
Moscone Bail Bonds - An Interview With Actor Joe Pantoliano
Hey Marvin! An Interview With Actor John Ashton
I'm Mosley! - An Interview With Actor Yaphet Kotto
Midnight Writer - An Interview With Actor Writer George Gallo Vintage Making of Featurette
I find it hard to believe that Shane Black didn't watch "Midnight Run" a few times at some stage in the production of his very clever throwback buddy comedy starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Critics loved Black's latest flick, and it should play very well at home, but allow me to get on a soapbox for just one second. Every other day I hear people my age complaining how they don't make movies for adults any more. And then "Suicide Squad" ends up making more in its first day than "The Nice Guys" did in its entire theatrical run domestically. You want more movies for adults? Go see the movies they make for adults. OK, I'm done now. Go rent this before your friend tells you to.
Alaways Bet on Black
Worst. Detectives. Ever. Making "The Nice Guys"
One of the most pleasant and unexpected surprises of 2016 has to be Jon Favreau's wildly successful remake of the Rudyard Kipling and Disney animated classic. The rebooting of Disney animated films in ventures like "Maleficent" hasn't exactly led to creative riches. And yet here we have arguably Jon Favreau's best film (yeah, I said it), a movie that understands both of its sources, working more of the Kipling story in with what we remember about Walt's take on it, and yet also updates them for a new generation. This is one of those family films that I can't wait to watch with my kids. And that I'm pretty sure they'll someday be showing their kids. You can't say that about too many modern family films, especially ones that are mostly live-action. And the gorgeously-transferred Blu-ray includes a commentary by the witty and fun Favreau that fans will really want to hear.
"The Jungle Book" Reimagined
I Am Mowgli
King Louie's Temple: Layer by Layer
It may say something about the truly dire state of the romantic drama that this relatively mediocre one looks great by comparison, and has earned a surprising and impressive $200 million worldwide. The main reason I think people have connected with this adaptation of Jojo Moyes work is how much star Emilia Clarke brings to it. The star of "Game of Thrones" does way more character work than we typically see in this genre as Louisa Clark, a woman who accepts a job as caretaker for the wealthy and paralyzed Will Traynor, played by Sam Claflin. Of course, she falls in love with him, but the tearjerking part of the drama kicks in when she learns that Will is planning to kill himself. Can she stop him? I have some issues with the final act of Thea Sharrock's film but, again, you could do a lot worse in this genre over the last few years, one that has been dominated by Sparks adaptations and Sparks wannabes.
"Me Before You": From Page to Screen
"Ash vs. Evil Dead: The Complete First Season"
When I heard that Starz was rebooting one of my favorite horror films as a weekly series, I was more than a little skeptical. It helped that Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi were returning to the series that made them famous, but I still had my doubts. Having watched the entire first season, I'm of the opinion that "Ash vs. Evil Dead" may not be great television but it sure is fun television. And that fun is expanded upon by audio commentaries on every single episode in this Blu-ray set, including hysterical, insightful appearances by Campbell and Raimi. You may have dismissed this when it was on Starz, but if you're a fan of "Evil Dead 2," and who isn't really, then you owe it to yourself to see how Campbell and Raimi are using the character three decades later.
Audio Commentaries on All Episodes
Inside The World Of Ash
How to Kill a Deadite
Best Of Ash
Noah Buschel's baseball drama opens with such a powerful scene between Paul Giamatti and Johnny Simmons that the rest of the film that follows has a tough time living up to it. Giamatti plays a famous sports psychologist, brought into help rookie pitcher Hopper Gibson get over a serious "case of the yips." The scenes between Giamatti and Simmons are rich, complex and character-driven. The rest of the film doesn't work nearly as well, although Ethan Hawke is effective as Hopper's abusive, criminal father. See it for Simmons & Giamatti, and for a unique take on the often-macho world of professional sports.
Interviews With The Cast Of "The Phenom"
"A Taste of Honey" (Criterion)
Tony Richardson's 1961 adaptation of the play of the same name is often referred to as one of the formative films in the genre of "kitchen sink" dramas, but it has held up significantly better than a lot of films of its era or subject matter. The saga of Jo (Rita Tushingham) still resonates as we watch this 17-year-old girl who has essentially been left to raise herself because of her alcoholic, uncaring mother grow up on her own, and quickly after she meets a handsome young man named Peter (Robert Stephens). Criterion's release features a great transfer and new interviews with Tushingham and Murray Melvin.
New Restored 4k Digital Transfer
New Interviews With Actors Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin
Audio Interview With Director and Cosscreenwriter Tony Richardson From the 1962 Cannes Film festival
Except From a 1960 With Cinematographer Walter Lassally
Remaking British Theater: Joan Littlewood and "A Taste of Honey" a new piece about the film's stage origins, featuring an interview with Theater Scholar Kate Dorney
Momma Dont Allow (1956), A Free Cinema Short Film By Richardson, Shot by Lassally
PLUS: An Essay By Film Scholar Colin MacCabe
"DC's Legends of Tomorrow"
It's reached a point where I don't often request current seasons of television on Blu-ray and DVD (the aforementioned "Ash vs. Evil Dead" and a few other cable offerings being exception). Why? Well, most of the sets are thin on special features and the seasons are already available on Hulu or other streaming services. And many companies just aren't putting a lot of effort into their TV season sets, including more and more being released on DVD only. However, the fine folks at WB always send over the latest seasons of their superhero CW shows, and I'm always impressed with the packages. They really deliver for fans of these shows, the kind of people who still love collectibles and still value having their favorite shows on their shelf. They also put more love and care than average into video/audio quality and special features. I can't speak to the quality of these shows, although I've seen and liked bits and pieces of all three, but the Blu-rays are solid.
"Legends of Tomorrow" Special Features
A Fantastic Voyage: Touring The Waverider Set
History In The Making
Jonah Hex: Hex Marks The Spot
DC's Legends of Tommorrow
2015 Comic-Con Panel
3 NEW ON VOD
"Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connect World"
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A look at the entire "Alien" franchise, and a reappraisal of its unloved installments.
A tribute to the late Powers Boothe.