|DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews For 3/30: "Better To Be King For A Night Than A Schmuck For A Lifetime"
|by Peter Sobczynski
Three of 2013's best films and three great films that you may have never heard of are among the titles to be found in this roundup of new DVD/Blu-Ray releases. Enjoy.
NEW AND NOTABLE
AMERICAN HUSTLE (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): After trading in the anarchic brilliance of such earlier films as "Three Kings" and "I Heart Huckabees" for more conventional (though admittedly entertaining) material like "The Fighter" and "Silver Linings Playbook," Russell returned to form with this fast and funny comedy-drama that uses Abscam (that sting operation from the late 1970's in which the Feds employed con men to help entrap crooked politicians into taking bribes from phony sheiks) as a springboard for a more freewheeling character study focusing on a group of people for whom duplicity is of such second-nature to them that the very notion of someone who is entirely honest and upfront about who they are is enough to drive them to distraction. There were great performances across the board by Christian Bale (whose combover alone deserves some kind of award) and Amy Adams as the con artists, Bradley Cooper as the fed who is as tightly coiled as his perm and Jeremy Renner as a politician who falls into their trap out of a genuine desire to help his constituents but the whole thing was stolen outright by Jennifer Lawrence as Bale's wife, a live wire whose innately direct nature is enough to blow the entire deal in an instant, in what may be the best performance to date of her already incredible career.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): In one of the most unusual and intriguing films in a career chock-full of them, acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris (whose fascinating new work "The Unknown Known" is now in release) turned his camera on world-renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking to explore his life and work (including sequences illustrating concepts from his worldwide best-seller of the same name) while examining how he managed to expand our knowledge of the entire universe despite his own well-known physical handicaps. Unavailable on home video for a long time, Criterion has brought this title back for its Blu-Ray debut that also includes new interviews with Morris and cinematographer John Bailey and excerpts from both "A Brief History of Time" and Hawking's 2013 autobiography "My Brief History."
DELIVERY MAN (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): In one of the more odious and off-putting films in a career chock-full of them, increasingly irritating motormouth Vince Vaughn plays an aging doofus who discovers that his numerous sperm bank donations back in the day have resulted in over 500 children and inexplicably decides to secretly meet and affect the lives of several of them as a way of becoming a better man. Virtually a carbon copy remake of the hit Canadian comedy "Starbuck" (right down to sharing the same director), this is a virtually indigestible blend of broad comedy and rank sentiment that veers into outright loathsomeness thanks to Vaughn's lazy and obnoxious performance and the only good thing about it is that it flopped so hard when it hit theaters last winter that it may finally cause Hollywood to think twice before sticking him as the center of their comedies in the future.
THE FRESHMAN (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Silent comedy legend Harold Lloyd scored the biggest hit of his career with this 1925 hit featuring him as an overly eager-to-please college student who becomes the campus laughing stock until he unexpectedly gets a chance to save the day during the big football game. Although I still have to go with the still-stunning "Safety Last" as his best film, this is arguably the most likable of his features and the one that best illustrates the everyman quality that helped put him on the same level as Chaplin and Keaton. Despite being nearly a century old, its basic thematic concerns still ring true today, the romance between Lloyd and co-star Jobyna Ralston is sweet and charming, the comedy setpieces (such as the bit where Lloyd shows up at a party with an improperly sewn tuxedo that self-destructs with every move he makes) and the big game climax is one of the great sports sequences in film history. Although it would have been nice for Criterion to have included "The Sin of Harold Diddlebock"--the semi-sequel that Preston Sturges made following Lloyd's character 20 years after the moment of his biggest (and apparently only) triumph--this set still brings together an impressive array of extras that includes a commentary with Lloyd archivist Richard Correll, film historian Richard Bann and Leonard "2 1/2 Stars for 'Laserblast'" Maltin, three vintage Lloyd shorts and footage from Lloyd's 1953 appearance on "What's My Line?" and a 1963 Delta Kappa Alpha tribute including appearances from Steve Allen and Jack Lemmon. For students of film comedy, this title is essential.
FROZEN (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): If you have a pre-teen daughter, you no doubt have already acquired a copy of this animated blockbuster--in which a spunky princess (Kristen Bell), along with a blandly handsome guy and a anthropomorphic snowman, sets off to track down her sister (Adele Nazeem), whose power to create ice and snow threatens to plunge their kingdom into what the people of Minnesota might call "Indian Summer"-- and watched it approximately 654 times. Although better than most of the stuff that Disney and the formerly reliable Pixar have cranked out in the last couple of years--the visuals are bright and clean and the story is initially fairly inventive and exciting--but it gets too familiar in the second half, the songs (save for the massive Oscar-winning hit "Let It Go") pretty much blend into each other after a while and that aforementioned snowman (voiced by Josh Gad) wears out its welcome very quickly. Still, you could do worse than have your kids watch this and my guess is that you already have.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): The Coen Brothers have made a career out of delivering the unexpected with each one of their films but their latest work, set in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960's just before the arrival of Bob Dylan and focusing on a singer (Oscar Isaac) whose obvious talent is not enough to make up for his disastrous personal and professional lives, was one of their biggest curve balls to date. Instead of mocking the ultra-sincere scene or having fun with the age-old narrative of the brilliant-but-troubled artist, they instead cast a remarkably sincere eye on their hero and his plight, perhaps recognizing that artistic success has as much to do with luck and timing as it does with talent. What it does have in common with the Coens' previous work is a gallery of great performances (Isaac's impressive turn is ably supported by the likes of Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, F. Murray Abraham and Coen fixture John Goodman), any number of brilliantly conceived scenes (a bit where our hero visits his shabby record company is arguably the funniest of the lot) and a soundtrack that you will almost certainly be buying as soon as you are done watching it.
MADEMOISELLE C (Cohen Media. $24.98): The latest in a seemingly never-ending string of glossy documentaries offering mere mortals a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the fashion industry, this one focuses on former "French Vogue" editrix Carine Roitfeld as she launches her own magazine, "CR Fashion Book." Like an actual fashion magazine, Fabien Constant's film is slick and superficial but if you have no greater desire than to watch a bunch of pretty faces (including Kate Upton, Stephanie Seymour, Lara Stone, Linda Evangelista and Karolina Kurkova) modeling fancy outfits while icons of the industry (including Tom Ford, Donatella Versace and Jean-Paul Gaultier) contemplate the meaning of it all, this should fit the bill until the next one comes along.
MS. 45 (New Video. $27.95): After being raped twice in one day and killing her second attacker in the process, a mute garment worker (Zoe Tamerlis, whose resemblance to a young Nastassia Kinski is downright eerie) becomes an avenging angel who hits the grimy streets of New York to gun down every loathsome male who comes across her path. The first great film from controversial cult filmmaker Abel Ferrara, this 1981 grindhouse gem, newly restored, is much better than the distaff "Death Wish" knockoff that it may sound like thanks to the genuinely dark and disturbing tone that Ferrara establishes and the mesmerizing lead performance by Tamerlis (who would go on to collaborate with Ferrara on "The Bad Lieutenant" before passing away in 1999).
SAVING MR. BANKS (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): Disney Studios based most of their 2013 Oscar hopes with a look back at their own history via this docudrama chronicling Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his attempts to persuade recalcitrant author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to allow him to make a movie version of her book "Mary Poppins," a work that turns out to have a great deal of personal resonance for the writer that she doesn't want to see debased on the big screen. Unfortunately, they wound up getting skunked because despite containing a few interesting things here and there--the performances by Hanks as Disney and Colin Farrell as Travers' drunken dreamer of a father in flashbacks and a nice recreation of the Disney empire back in the early Sixties--the film as a whole is a bit of a drag that basically asks audiences to spend two hours watching America's most beloved strike-breaker and the world's most ornery Australian trying to hammer out a deal memo. Frankly, the bonus features on the "Mary Poppins" Blu-Ray offer a more interesting look at the production process of the genuinely groundbreaking film and chances are good that you already have it sitting in your library.
THE SWIMMER (Grindhouse Releasing. $29.95): One of the stranger films to emerge from a Hollywood studio in the late Sixties, this 1968 adaptation of the John Cheever short story of the same name stars Burt Lancaster as a man living in a well-to-do Connecticut suburb who one day impulsively decides to swim his way home via the backyard pools of his neighbors, a journey that becomes increasingly strange and eerie along the way. Described perfectly on the back of the Blu-Ray as "a feature-length "Twilight Zone" episode by way of "The New Yorker"" (where the story was first published), this exploration into the darkness lurking just beneath the well-manicured lawns of suburbia (a notion that had not yet become a cliche) is not just a fascinating curio from a bygone era--it deals with ideas and concerns that are just as relevant today as they were when it first came out. Despite the relative obscurity of this title for contemporary audiences, Grindhouse Releasing has loaded it up with special features, including a recording of Cheever reading the original story, a still gallery including glimpses of several now-lost alternate scenes and, most impressively, a five-part 2 1/2 documentary on the film and its troubled history (including multiple directors and cuts) that includes interviews with participants such as co-stars Janet Landgard, Marge Champion and Joan Rivers (yes, that Joan Rivers, editor Sidney Katz, swim coach Bob Horn and the late composer Marvin Hamlisch. One of the bigger home video surprises of the still-young year and definitely worth checking out.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Paramount Home Video. $29.98): If the mark of a truly significant artist is their ability to continually poke and outrage viewers in their later years instead of falling into a complacent rut, then Martin Scorsese once again proved himself to be a provocateur for the ages with this jaw-dropping, eye-popping depiction of the true story of a crafty little weasel (Leonardo Di Caprio in what now stands as the performance of his career) who created a billion dollar empire out of selling crappy penny stocks and subsequently rode it into the ground in a blaze of greed, hubris and more cocaine than "Scarface" and "Boogie Nights" combined. Breaking out of the stylistic confines of his last couple of films, Scorsese hit the ground running with a go-for-broke epic that ran for three breathlessly-paced hours, was horrifying and hilarious in equal measure (an extended sequence involving some old quaaludes, luncheon meat, a looming legal catastrophe and an old "Popeye" cartoon was a set-piece for the ages), was jam-packed with great performances across the board and which offered viewers the pleasure of seeing a top director working at the peak of his powers. Ignore the naysayers who have griped about its length, the excess that it unapologetically depicts and the lack of any overt moral statement about how Greed Is Bad (none of which would have made any sense since the film is seen entirely through the tunnel-visioned eyes of its anti-hero, a guy not known for self-reflection) and let them stick with the likes of the long-forgotten "Boiler Room"--this is another instant classic from one of our greatest living filmmakers. If that isn't enough Scorsese for you, his controversial 1983 masterpiece "The King of Comedy" (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99) has just made its Blu-Ray debut as well.
THE BEST OF BOGART (Warner Home Video. $49.99)
THE BLACK STALLION (MGM Home Entertainment. $14.99)
EL DORADO (Paramount Home Video. $19.98)
GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (Paramount Home Video. $19.98)
KILL YOUR DARLINGS (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99)
ODD THOMAS (Image Entertainment. $34.97)
THE PAST (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): X
PERFORMANCE (Warner Home Video. $24.97)
SAMSON & DELILAH (Paramount Home Video. $22.98)
WONDERWALL (Shout! Factory. $24.97)
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originally posted: 03/30/14 18:26:09
last updated: 03/31/14 07:46:22