A suspenseful Hitchockian course is charted by Transsiberian, which concerns the murderous intrigue that envelops American tourists Roy (Woody Harrelson) and wife Jessie (Emily Mortimer) while making the famous week-long Transsiberian train trek from Beijing to Moscow. Having just completed church-sponsored humanitarian work in China, train-loving do-gooder rube Roy is thrilled about the journey. The same canât be said about Jessie, a former globetrotting wild child attempting, with varying degrees of success, to right her wayward impulses through marriage to Roy, an endeavor hopelessly mucked up by the coupleâs chance encounter with dangerously seductive Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and his heavily eyelinered girlfriend Abby (Kate Mara).
Despite HD cinematography that canât quite capture the ominous grandeur of the vast landscape through which the train travels, director Brad Anderson establishes a suitably portentous mood through claustrophobic staging and an overarching air of linguistic and cultural isolation. The storyâs tension mounts gradually, but so too do disparate plot elements that never quite gel, from hanging references to Roy and Jessieâs nationality, to a bevy of excessively angry foreigners prone to growling or giving Yanks the cold shoulder, to superficially consequential maxims about truth, positivity and setting a life ârouteâ delivered by Roy, Jessie and a suspicious Russian narcotics detective named Grinko (Ben Kingsley) with whom they eventually come into contact.
These sayings sound meaningful in the moment but never amount to much, as Transsiberian eventually reveals itself to be scatterbrained thematically, with any larger concernsâabout seizing the day, the blithe insensitivity of Americans, or the amorality of a modern Russia where everything is a literal and figurative gray areaârelegated to the background of straightforward thriller maneuverings. Fortunately, Mortimerâs performance ably conveys Jessieâs internal tug-of-war, a struggle that propels the narrative into ever more gripping regions, and Anderson keeps the anxiety levels high enough to obscure some not-entirely-convincing third-act choices made by his protagonist, as well as the general emptiness of the proceedings, which are finally epitomized by a government agentâs vacation advice: âDonât you be talkinâ to strangers.â
I didnât see Transsiberian in theaters, but Xavi GimĂ©nezâs HD cinematography looks pretty nice on the small screen. Blacks are relatively inky though. Sound is good, with train engines, whistles and bloodletting all sufficiently audible.
Aside from trailers for other First Look films (War, Inc., Sukiyaki Western Django, Priceless and Birds of America), nothing. Not even a Matryoshka doll made of heroin. The fact that there isnât a commentary track or featurette is disappointing considering that Russia is exerting itself on the global stage these days, and both Russian-American relations and the drug trade are always good fodder for conversation.
Kind of like a roller coaster rideâon a Transsiberian cross-country trainâwithout any of the amenities.
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Kate Mara, Eduardo Noriega, Thomas Kretschmann, Ben Kingsley Director: Brad Anderson Screenwriter: Brad Anderson Distributor: First Look Home Entertainment Running Time: 111 min Rating: R Year: 2008 Release Date: November 4, 2008 Buy: Video
Blu-ray Review: Ted Wildeâs The Kid Brother on the Criterion Collection
This disc continues Criterionâs exceptional track record of reviving Harold Lloydâs silent masterpieces.4.5
An affable boy-next-door type with dorky horn-rimmed glasses, Harold Lloydâs on-screen persona has sometimes been dismissed as merely charmingâa likable average joe whose jocularity is no match for the poetic expressionism of his more highly regarded peers, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. And while itâs true that he lacked the underlying darkness of Chaplinâs Tramp or the mysteriousness of Keatonâs stoneface, Lloyd was no mere happy-go-lucky cipher. As exemplified by Ted Wildeâs The Kid Brother demonstrates, his films bristle with a markedly American anxiousness, a desperate yearning for acceptance thatâs evident in every jittery hand gesture and abashed facial expression. In film after film, Lloydâs on-screen persona has to prove himself worthy of respect, whether by climbing a skyscraper or winning the big football game. And in The Kid Brother, it takes nothing less than saving an entire town.
As the filmâs title suggests, Lloydâs protagonist, Harold Hickory, is the youngest of three sons, the scrawny runt of a powerful family whose name graces the town in which they live, Hickoryville. His father (Walter James) is the town sheriff, and his two burly older brothers (Leo Willis and Olin Francis) have relegated poor Harold to the domestic duties of cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. Whenever Harold attempts to join in the menâs businessâtheyâre handling the fundraising for a new local damâheâs dismissed on sight. At one point, his dad even warns him, âSon, you might get hurt. This is a manâs job.â
And so, The Kid Brother is largely about Haroldâs efforts to prove that he, too, is a man. After a failed attempt at breaking up an illegal medicine show, he eventually gets his chance when the villainous Sandoni (professional wrestler Constantine Romanoff) runs off with the dam money. Harold finds him, fights him, and outwits him, returning the funds to the town and showing everybody that, while he may not be as beefy as his brothers, heâs no less courageous.
Featuring a hardscrabble rural setting that feels light years away from the spunky urbanity of films like Safety Last! and Speedy, The Kid Brother squeezes a succession of clever gags out of its rustic milieu. In one scene, it appears as though Harold is crouched down and crawling through tall grass, when in fact heâs placed his hat on a pigâs back in order to divert the town bully, Hank Hooper (R. Yearsley). And in another delightful visual joke, Harold devises an ingenious method of doing dishes by placing them in a net and spinning them in the sink.
But the filmâs most exhilarating moment is also one of its gentlest. Harold, infatuated with a girl, Mary (Jobyna Ralston), from the medicine show, climbs a tall tree so as to keep her in view for as long as possible. As he ascends higher and higher, so does the camera (which was mounted by the filmmakers on a specially built elevator platform). The moment climaxes when Harold reaches the top of the tree, mountains visible in the distance, and calls out to Mary, âGood-bye!â Thereâs a remarkably tranquil tension to this sequence, as you wonder how high Harold will go and if the camera will really follow him all the way up, and it ends when Harold loses his balance and tumbles all the way down to the ground. Unfazed, he picks up a flower and pulls off the petals one by one as he recites, âShe loves meâŠshe loves me not.â
Itâs this sort of creative, sweet-natured gag that truly epitomizes Lloydâs comedic genius. Thereâs a sense of danger to this sequence, but also a recognition that everythingâs going to be just fine. That same balance of lightness and suspense is on full display in the filmâs climactic stand-off between Harold and Sandoni aboard an abandoned ship. Hilarious and restlessly inventive, Lloyd and comedy writer turned director Wilde make stunning use of this evocative, horror-movie locale, the kind of strange, shadowy setting one might expect to find in a Val Lewton film. Lloyd and Wilde assemble a remarkably energetic series of action-packed gags and stunts, each one flowing seamlessly into the next, from Harold dangling off the side of the vessel to putting his shoes on a monkey as a diversionary tactic.
Itâs a hugely satisfying finale that all culminates, as of course it must, with Harold and Mary walking off together in a tender embrace. Having defeated the brutish Sandoni, been accepted as a true Hickory by his father, and celebrated by the town that bears his familyâs name, Harold finally gets the girl. And all it took was proving himself as a man.
As with the Criterion Collectionâs previous Harold Lloyd releases, The Kid Brother was restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, and the results are crisp, clear, and beautiful. The image shows a remarkable depth of field, with minute details of the filmâs striking natural locations visible throughout. Lloydâs rubbery trademark facial expressions are noticeable even in long shots, amplifying the comedic impact of the many stunts and fight scenes in the film. There are very slight imperfections noticeable on occasion, including a few scratches and some mild fading around the edges of the frame, though nothing that distracts too much from the viewing experience. Criterion has provided two alternate soundtracks, a Copland-esque folk-inspired orchestral score by Carl Davis that perfectly suits the filmâs pastoral setting, and a jauntily dynamic organ score by Lloydâs favorite accompanist, Gaylord Carter.
Among the highlights of this release are two ultra-rare early Lloyd shorts, Over the Fence and Thatâs Him (both featuring new Wurlitzer theater pipe organ scores), and a video essay by John Bengtson on The Kid Brotherâs locations thatâs as intensively researched and beautifully illustrated as the similar features heâs made for prior Criterion releases of Lloydâs films. Elsewhere, the audio commentary from 2005 by Lloyd archivist Richard Correll, film historian Annette DâAgostino Lloyd, and Lloydâs granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, is chatty and appreciative, if only fitfully informative. Suzanne Lloyd also appears in a dishy new conversation about her grandfatherâs leading ladies and a 2005 featurette about Lloydâs sprawling Greenacres estate. Greenacres also figures heavily in Bengtsonâs video essay and provides the backdrop for a brief but insightful 1962 interview with Lloyd recorded for Dutch TV. A perceptive video essay by critic David Cairns on the filmâs wonderful âmonkey shoesâ gag and a booklet essay by critic Carrie Rickey round out this jam-packed set, which provides loads of illuminating context about Lloydâs career and the silent era as a whole.
Featuring a crisp new restoration and oodles of illuminating extras, this disc continues Criterionâs exceptional track record of reviving Harold Lloydâs silent masterpieces.
Cast: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Walter James, Leo Willis, Olin Francis, Constantine Romanoff, Eddie Boland, Frank Lanning, Ralph Yearsley Director: Ted Wilde Screenwriter: John Grey, Lex Neal, Howard J. Green Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 82 min Rating: NR Year: 1927 Release Date: March 12, 2019 Buy: Video
Review: Todd Haynesâs Far from Heaven on Kino Lorber Blu-ray
Kino Lorberâs release marks the long-overdue arrival of Todd Haynesâs ravishing melodrama on Blu-ray.4
In Douglas Sirkâs 1955 masterpiece All That Heaven Allows, a middle-aged widow incurs the wrath of a small town when she falls in love with her young gardener. She sacrifices love for a communityâs acceptance only to realize, perhaps too late, that sheâs made the wrong decision. The filmâs title not only refers to her upper-middle-class milieu and its grueling demands, but also to the widowâs own personal allowances. In Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Rainer Werner Fassbinder reworked All That Heaven Allows but introduced race and the ideology of a working-class Germany into the equation. Now, in Far from Heaven, writer-director Todd Haynes goes one step further by adding the element of sexuality.
The film opens with a dissolve between a painting of a tree branch and its real-life representation, a flourish that immediately calls attention to the mechanism at work in this melodrama. Haynes is fascinated with the thin lines that separate the world from an idealized version of reality and the paths of resistance that lie therein. At an art exhibition, Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) bumps into her African-American gardener, Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), who teaches her to interpret the Picassos and MirĂłs that hang on the walls and observes how modern art has pared religious art down to simple shapes and colors. Again, Haynes calls attention to the expressive elements at work in this magnificent experiment, the âsmoke and mirrorsâ of a mise-en-scĂšne that demand decodification.
Cathy, a mother of two, is married to a successful businessman, Frank (Dennis Quaid), who works for Magnatech, a powerful television sales company. (In All That Heaven Allows, television was used to keep women occupied and, therefore, out of trouble.) Cathy and Frank are referred to as âMr. and Mrs. Magnatech,â no doubt because they embody everything thatâs seemingly âperfectâ about upper-middle-class suburbia. A Weekly Gazette reporter (Bette Henritze) does a story on Cathy because âbehind every great man thereâs a great woman,â and after the article causes a stir for claiming that Cathy is âkind to the Negroes,â her best friend, Eleonor Fine (Patricia Clarkson), covers for her, saying that sheâs been called a âredâ ever since âshe played summer stock with all those steamy Jewish boys.â Society extols her even as they recognize that she may be a loose cannon. She may not be able to distinguish a fake Rembrandt from the real thing but she can appreciate Picassos.
Cathyâs willingness to understand others isnât only implied by her support for the NAACP and her kindness to Raymond but in her willingness to forgive Frank after she catches him cheating on her with another man. âI know itâs bad because it makes me feel despicable,â says Frank to his psychologist (James Rebhorn). He looks to cure his âdiseaseâ just as Cathy looks to fix her husband before the world outside begins to notice that their lives are far from perfect. Indeed, when Frank accidentally strikes Cathy, itâs only natural that she hides her bruises from everyone around her. Haynes understands how women like Cathy were financially dependent on men, reduced to supporting players in their husbandsâ lives. What he understands more, however, is how these women were forced to keep up appearances.
Far from Heaven is set in Hartford, Connecticut in 1957, the social realities and political upheavals of which are buried beneath a rich tapestry of signs. Haynesâs remarkable use of mirrors emphasizes the emotional distance between characters and the sad way they avoid confrontation. For Christmas, Cathy gives Frank a box full of vacation brochures, and front and center is a pamphlet extolling Cubaâs beauty. Not only was 1957 the height of Fidel Castroâs war against Fulgencio Batista, but it was also the year of the Little Rock school desegregation scandal. Haynes repeatedly frames Frank next to elaborate Eames-era light fixtures and, in one scene, implies that he broke a lamp in his office during a fit of rage and hid the broken pieces inside, yes, a closet. Cathy and Frank donât go to Cuba, instead opting to travel to Miami, this in spite the prevalence of pink in the cityâs architecture.
Elmer Bernsteinâs score punctuates key moments with expert precision, complementing the tone of the charactersâ voices and the traumas written on their faces. When Frank enters an underground gay bar, Edward Lachmanâs camera evokes the characterâs fear with a splash of menacing greens and muted reds. More remarkable, though, is how the film seemingly loses its color when things begin to go wrong for Cathy. Haynes seemingly suggests that thereâs no need for labels (gay and straight, black and white, inside and outside) if people are willing to listen to others. Cathy is drawn to Frank not because of his race or because of her own sense of not-being, but because heâs willing to listen to her voice. Here is a film of great humanism that applies as much to the â50s as it does to the world today and everyone who inhabits it. Standing before a painting by Jean MirĂł, Frank and Cathy grow closer together. The name of the painting? The Beautiful Bird Revealing the Unknown to a Pair of Lovers. And so the filmâs final shot evokes not only changing season, but hopefully also a changing cultural tide.
The almost too-perfect colors of Ed Lachmanâs cinematography absolutely pop on this release, rendering all those deep, moody periwinkles and rusty, autumnal oranges with a fidelity and grace that neither mutes the emotional force of the filmâs heightened Technicolor-inspired artificiality nor exaggerates its vibrancy into garish excess. The discâs sound, provided in DTS-HD 2.0 and 5.1 audio tracks, is similarly well-balanced, handling both the filmâs subdued dialogue and Elmer Bernsteinâs emotionally complex score with equal integrity.
Thereâs nothing new here, but the extras carried over from the filmâs initial DVD release are solid. The highlight of these is undoubtedly the audio commentary by Todd Haynes, who provides a steady diet of anecdotes, technical insights, and essay-like analysis, often focusing on the filmâs relationship to the work of Douglas Sirk and Rainer Fassbinder. One of the more cerebral directors of his era, Haynes often comes off less like a filmmaker commenting on his own creation than a critic interpreting a text. That same cerebral auto-analysis is on display in a well-produced half-hour documentary, originally made for the Sundance Channel, that dissects the filmâs pivotal party scene, offering brief but incisive tidbits about the sequenceâs editing, cinematography, production design, and more. The rest of the extras, however, are purely perfunctory: a trailer, a brief clip from a panel discussion with Haynes and Julianne Moore, and a by-the-book making-of featurette.
Kino Lorberâs release marks the long-overdue arrival of this ravishing melodrama on Blu-ray, and thanks to its vibrant audio-visual presentation, the wait was more than worth it.
Cast: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson, Viola Davis, James Rebhorn, Celia Weston, Bette Henritze Director: Todd Haynes Screenwriter: Todd Haynes Distributor: Kino Lorber Running Time: 118 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2002 Release Date: March 19, 2019 Buy: Video, Soundtrack
Review: Riccardo Fredaâs The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire on Arrow Video Blu-ray
With this noteworthy release, Arrow Videoâs devotion to vigorously excavating lesser-known gialli continues unabated.4.5
Dario Argento is consistently deemed the preeminent giallo maestro by critics and fans alike because of how his films blend mystery and obsession into an irresistible concoction. In The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Deep Red, the gonzo plunge into the unknown doesnât forsake the basic mechanics of plot and characterization. Yet the Argento-centric focus in giallo criticism and scholarship has effectively shortchanged the spectrum of diverse approaches to the genre, many of which seem to adopt incoherence as an almost philosophical aim. Whether The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire embraces narrative confusion by daftness or design, Ricardo Fredaâs film nevertheless possesses a propulsive energy that gradually makes coherence an insignificant, even undesirable feature.
The film begins on a strange note, with wide shots of a motorcyclist making his way through Dublin. The Irish setting is random and nearly irrelevant to the subsequent story of a Swiss ambassador, Sobiesky (Anton Diffring), and his family being tormented by an unknown killer, but it does pave the way for some stunning footage shot near the Cliffs of Moher, where the ambassadorâs daughter, Helen (Dagmar Lassander), flirts with John Norton (Luigi Pistilli), a detective in pursuit of the assailant. The film finds little meaningful activity for its characters to engage in amid this and other vistas, like the snow-covered ski slopes of Zurich in a later scene, besides moseying about. As sequences essential to developing the filmâs themes or ideas, theyâre practically useless, but as widescreen landscape footage, theyâre magnificent.
The dissonance between story and image defines The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, and sometimes in contrasting ways depending on the scene. The core of the filmâs criminal investigation involves a plethora of suspects and possible motivations being discussed within the sparse confines of a police station. While Inspector Lawrence (Arthur OâSullivan) is established in early scenes as the lead investigative figure in several interrogations of possible suspects, heâs gradually supplanted by Norton, whose own family becomes one of the killerâs targets. The switch plays less like a calculated shift of the audienceâs expectations than an indication of Fredaâs investment in the potential jolt of individual set pieces; in short, since Nortonâs vulnerable mother and daughter make easy targets, the film uses their assault as the climax, pitting Norton face-to-face with the murderer.
That the killerâs identity is almost impossible to surmise becomes part of the broader absurdist tone that feeds into Fredaâs knack for composing striking images amid so much narrative chaos. Thereâs a sense that Brian De Palma was influenced by The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, as Dressed to Kill similarly blends reality and dreams to memorable visual effect; thereâs also the matter of the killer in both films wearing the same clothes and using the same murder weapon. But whereas Freda funneled his story into the cinematic equivalent of a lottery machine, De Palma makes guessing his killerâs identity a cinch, prompting us to truly wrestle with the implications of Dressed to Killâs psychosexual and oneiric imagery.
The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire demonstrates how the different shades of the giallo genre, made in Italy and beyond, require variable critical orientations for identifying their aims. If one assumes that Argentoâs genre model is the supreme and only approach to the giallo, then other, less logically inclined filmmakers like Freda or Massimo Dallamano, risk being marginalized or, worse, lopped from the canon entirely.
Struck from the original 35mm camera negative, this transfer marks the filmâs first appearance on North American home video and should be cause for celebration. Particularly striking are the incredible on-location scenes in Ireland: The saturated greens and browns of the Cliffs of Moher are fully discernible, while Zurichâs snow-covered ski slopes shimmer with vitality. There are only minimal signs of image damage, including slight scratches and debris, throughout the film. The monaural soundtrack sounds clean and comes in both Italian and English versions. Itâs a release like this, of a film that seemed to have been relegated to eternal damnation on VHS or low-grade streams, that calls for terms like ârenaissanceâ in reference to the spectrum of giallo titles being made available in HD by Arrow Video.
Among the plethora of extras on this disc, most noteworthy is the audio commentary by film critics Adrian J. Smith and David Flint. Simultaneously playful and informative, Smith and Flint oscillate between providing historical information about The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire and their own personal takes on the film. A notable highlight of this commentary includes the revelation that, despite the credits citing a novel as the filmâs source material, there was no such book; the claim was made in an effort to lend legitimacy to the production.
An interview with film scholar Richard Dyer provides a remarkably lucid explanation of the filmâs themes and shortcomings. Dyer differentiates between the narrative details that provide the viewer with food for thought and those that are so thinly sketched or convoluted that even he canât follow their logic. Elsewhere, DJ Lovely Jon gives an appreciation of composer Stelvio Cipriani, which is similar to but distinct enough from his words about the music of â70s Italian cult cinema on Arrowâs release of The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion. Also included are interviews with actress Dagmar Lassander and assistant editor Bruno Micheli, the filmâs original and international theatrical trailers, a virtual copy of the filmâs original photo novel published in 1971, an image gallery, and a booklet containing an essay by film historian Andreas Ehrenreich on the filmâs creation from pre-production to post.
With this noteworthy release of Riccardo Fredaâs 1971 film, Arrow Videoâs devotion to vigorously excavating lesser-known gialli continues unabated.
Cast: Dagmar Lassander, Anton Diffring, Luigi Pistilli, Arthur OâSullivan, Werner Pochath, Dominique Boschero, Renato Romano, Valentina Cortese, Ruth Durley Director: Riccardo Freda Screenwriter: Riccardo Freda, Sandro Continenza, GĂŒnter Ebert, AndrĂ© TranchĂ© Distributor: Arrow Video Running Time: 96 min Rating: NR Year: 1971 Release Date: April 9, 2019 Buy: Video
Review: Clint Eastwoodâs The Mule on Warner Bros. Blu-ray
There are no real supplements on this disc, but Eastwoodâs eccentric and moving film speaks quite well for itself.3.5
Clint Eastwoodâs The Mule doesnât move like many contemporary American films, especially those in the crime genre. Crime cinema is often pumped up on machismo, with breakneck action sequences and tough and derivative dialogue. Meanwhile, other genresâsuperhero films, musicals, horror films, politically motivated biopics, animated fantasiesâare often tethered to so rigid a narrative structure that they lack the emotional contemplation and sense of being-ness that drove, say, the best of the westerns that Hollywood produced when Eastwood professionally came of age. In this wearying paint-by-numbers context, The Mule is bracingly warm and eccentric, with a wandering tempo that refutes the overstimulated hyperventilation of pop culture. The very pace of Eastwoodâs new film is inherently political.
As actor and director, Eastwood is intensely in sync with the rhythms of Earl Stone, a 90-year-old horticulturalist who winds up smuggling cocaine for the Sinaloa cartel up from El Paso into Chicago, once his flower business falls apart due to competition from online corporations. Quite a bit of the film is devoted to watching Earl as he drives the countryside or bullshits with people, with time passing via intertitles and elegant fades and ellipses that communicate liberation and sadness. Earl is a cheeky old man who feels that heâs earned the right to do whatever he pleases, whether itâs savoring our countryâs gorgeous landscapes, slowing down a drug delivery so he can savor the âbest pulled pork sandwich in the Midwest,â or soliciting a threesome with prostitutes a fraction of his age. Along the way, Earl speaks to cartel members in fashions that could get him killed, and his shamelessness earns their and our respect.
Your average director might have used Earlâs vigor and personality to spice up a suspense narrative, but the old manâs devotion to screwing around is the very subject of The Mule. Enjoyable detailsâEarl listening to oldies on the radio, pulling into rest stops for a snack, and even bantering with members of the cartelâallow Eastwoodâs complicated political ideology to come into focus with understated ease. Currently Hollywoodâs most iconic conservative filmmaker, Eastwood revels in Earlâs sense of selfâin his implicit ability to refute modern self-censorship with his racist humor and politically incorrect sexual indulgences, which in this film often suggest a clearing of repressed air. Eastwood celebrates Earl as a refutation of our current culture, in which we police everything we say and do out of perpetual fear of causing offense, and in which art is often celebrated merely for parroting liberal platitudes back to critics whoâre understandably enraged by the current government. Earlâs staunch resistance to these trends, embodied by his resentment of cellphones, render him an alternately baffling, pitiful, and exhilarating figure to younger peopleâwhite, of color, straight and queer alikeâwhoâre used to playing by the modern rules of the game.
Yet this conservative filmmaker is also deeply attached to community, understanding that our direct and personal connections keep us healthy and human. Eastwood reveres the sorts of institutions that Republicans usually canât wait to defund, and this conflict between a fetishizing of self and a yearning for community often animates his films, most recently Sully and The 15:17 to Paris. Eastwood, then, is conflicted in similar fashions as America itself. This is a place built on oppression that has fostered the intoxicating, maddeningly elusive possibility of freedom, a possibility thatâs somehow both represented and refuted in microcosm by Earlâs hedonism and willingness, in his own antiquated, occasionally embarrassing way, to meet people of all sorts on their terms. One of The Muleâs most moving and telling narrative detours shows Earl using some of his drug money to save the local V.F.W., which is expressed by a joyous dance scene that suggests the ideal of our society.
Eastwood and screenwriter Nick Schenk also understand Earlâs sense of self to be selfishnessâa privilege thatâs not available to all Americans, some of whom pay a price for Earlâs revelry (such as his family, one of whom is played, in a suggestively autobiographical touch, by Eastwoodâs daughter, Alison Eastwood). Not everyone can do whatever they like on the highways of America. In a tense and heartbreaking scene, the D.E.A. agents searching for Earl, led by Agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper), pull over a Hispanic man. Terrified of being killed by police, this man telegraphs his obedience with haunting and resonant steadfastness, which Eastwood plays for pitch-black comedy that never fails to shortchange the manâs fear. And this sequence has a wicked and subtle punchline: As the man returns to his truck unscathed, a tractor trailer roars by the highway in the background, causing the audience to wonder if itâs carrying drugs right under everyoneâs noses, just like Earl does.
Many critics took The Mule for granted as an offhand bauble, the sort of thing Eastwood can knock off whenever he likes. But Eastwoodâs casualness here, as both actor and director, represents an aesthetic apotheosisâa realization of a tone that heâs been trying to conjure off and on for decades. The heaviness of Eastwood films that were taken more seriously by audiences, such as Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, is almost entirely absent from The Mule, as Eastwood sustains here a lightness of beingâa sensualityâthat contains multitudes of emotional, personal, and political textures. The film is a poem of an America that never quite was, an America that haunts the dreams of people of all political affiliations, especially as we move further into a corporatized, artificially connected and manipulated monoculture that, incidentally, doesnât favor atmospheric character studies like The Mule. When Colin captures Earl, Eastwood frames himself in shadowy profile as Earlâs placed in a police car. This portrait of a legendâs face against a doorframe, ruing lost time, ruing the promises that he and his country failed to keep, is worthy of the final shot of John Fordâs The Searchers.
As with many of Clint Eastwoodâs recent productions, The Mule favors muted colors, abounding in blacks and blues throughout its interior scenes, which are contrasted here with the bright craggy landscapes of New Mexico. The colors are rich and well-varied in this transfer, and the settings boast a good amount of detail, per the tradition of Warner Bros.âs often superb presentations of Eastwoodâs films. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack isnât a show pony, as this is a film composed often of alternating silence and dialogue. That said, those elements are handled perfectly well here. The score and various sound effectsâgun shots, cars screechingâalso boast appropriate bass and body, the latter of which effectively startles the filmâs often quiet soundscape.
A 10-minute making-of supplement is a traditional promotional puff piece, though one interesting detail emerges: Eastwoodâs character in The Mule wears clothing worn by the protagonists he played in True Crime and Gran Torino, among others, giving the film a subliminal autumnal texture. A music video for Toby Keithâs soundtrack song, âDonât Let the Old Man In,â rounds out a virtually nonexistent supplements package.
Though there are no real supplements on this Warner Bros. disc, Clint Eastwoodâs eccentric and moving The Mule speaks quite well for itself.
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Taissa Farmiga, Michael PeĂ±a, Alison Eastwood, Andy Garcia, Laurence Fishburne, Dianne Wiest, Manny Montana, Robert LaSordo, Jill Flint Director: Clint Eastwood Screenwriter: Nick Schenk Distributor: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Running Time: 116 min Rating: R Year: 2018 Buy: Video
Blu-ray Review: Luchino Viscontiâs Death in Venice on the Criterion Collection
Criterionâs release breathes new life into a self-appraising late period work thatâs a lavish and lugubrious meditation on art and death.4.5
Luchino Viscontiâs Death in Venice opens with a steamer approaching Venice, the strings of Mahlerâs Fifth Symphony gorgeously throbbing on the soundtrack. This opening suggests the Italian city as an entry of romanticized escape for Gustave von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde), a reserved German composer on sabbatical, but then the sequenceâs staid rhythm is abruptly dispelled by a blast from the boatâs steam engine, as if to hint at all the scorching filth that underlies Veniceâs hyperbolic beauty. Throughout the film, Aschenbachâs vacation getaway will devolve into a ruinously obsessive journey, as he becomes captivated by the beauty heâs spent a career idealizing, manifested in a 14-year-old Polish boy. And this while Venice, cosmopolitan center for European art and culture, falls prey to a hazardous cholera epidemic.
We intuit that Aschenbach has retreated from his native Germany after a hostile reception to the premiere of a new composition. Doctors recommend a long period of complete rest, and he ventures to the south alone. In Venice, Aschenbachâs noble pretenses are undermined almost right away by grotesque encounters with a made-up dandy and a nefarious gondolier. He isnât met with the deference heâs used to receiving, but with recalcitrant mockery. In this way, Death in Venice has deep connective tissue to Viscontiâs The Leopard, wherein the aristocracy of Old Europe comes to grips with its collapse. Here, Aschenbach feels like a vestige of that class of European: a 19th-century ghost who hasnât realized his obsolescence.
Through flashbacks, the audience learns that Aschenbachâs music is committed to ideals of beauty. Whereas Alfred (Mark Burns), his friend and colleague, preaches of the triumph of the senses and the significance of ambiguity in art, Aschenbach believes that art should uphold the dignity of humanity. For him, the nobility of beauty and intellect triumphs over our rudderless senses. Yet just as disease grips Venice, Aschenbachâs sensorial enthrallment overtakes his sense of reason. He settles into his hotel, and as Viscontiâs cameraâdoubling for Aschenbachâs gazeâspends several minutes canvassing the dense dining hall, our main characterâs languor and detachment is impressed upon us.
Itâs then that an aristocratic Polish family passes before Aschenbach and the man is instantly taken with the beautiful Tadzio (BjĂ¶rn AndrĂ©sen). Even when the boy looks back at Aschenbach with an ambiguous smile, thereâs a subtle sense that the boyâs preternatural glance has been constructed in the composerâs head. In one scene, Aschenbach spies Tadzio playing the piano, only for Visconti to then reveal that the boy isnât there at all. At first, this kindling infatuation within Aschenbach is exciting for him, then frustrating, and eventually infuriating. And Death in Venice aesthetically complements Aschenbachâs unraveling: Viscontiâs stylistic approach remains staid and evenly controlled in its presentation, yet the stready progression of flashbacks offers more questions than resolutions, plying the story with the kinds of ambiguities a conservative artist like Aschenbach disdains, suggesting that heâs being destroyed as if by a contagion carving its way through him.
Throughout, Tadzioâs perfection contrasts with Aschenbachâs loss of control. In The Leopardâs famous ball sequence, the noble patrons maintained their grace despite being so sweat-stained. But in Death in Venice, the sphinx of Old Europe has fully eroded. Aschenbach even attempts to remake himself in a barberâs shop as a younger man, blackening his graying hair and reddening his cheeks. âAnd now the signore may fall in love as he wishes,â the barber says, and yet as the cosmetically redrawn Aschenbach wanders through the stench of an ostensibly desolate wasteland, he embodies a ridiculous (and futile) retort to time.
Death in Venice is based on a 1911 novella by Thomas Mann, who often connected themes of disease and erotic enthrallment. For his adaptation, Visconti reached beyond his source material and incorporates elements from Mannâs 1947 novel Doctor Faustus, wherein Germanyâs abandonment of reason to tribal barbarism becomes analogous to an artistâs pact with the devil for acquiring genius. In that novel, composer Adrian LeverkĂŒhnâs means of sealing this deal is by visiting a prostitute who infects him with syphilis, a slow-moving contamination that isolates his body and mind just as it destroys them (the scenario is based on an apocryphal story about the philosopher Friederich Nietzsche, whose work influenced so much of the trajectory of thought in the coming century). With haunting precision and muted sexual ferocity, Visconti stages the brothel scene from Doctor Faustus as a flashback, as Aschenbachâin place of LeverkĂŒhnâvisits the prostitute Esmeralda (Carole AndrĂ©).
This flashback connects to Aschenbachâs infatuation with Tadzio, as both Esmeralda and Tadzio are spotted playing Beethovenâs âFĂŒr Eliseâ on a piano. Itâs not clear if Viscontiâs Aschenbach, like LeverkĂŒhn in Doctor Faustus, acquired syphilis from Esmeralda. But in connecting Tadzio and Esmeralda, Visconti implies Aschenbachâs metamorphosis from a dignified disposition to some irrational urge for destabilization (Esmeralda is also the name of the ship that carries him to Venice). The film is constructed of long camera setups with impeccably calibrated zooms to capture Old Europeâs denizens marching through crowded frames, conveying the hold of a master filmmaker in his twilight years over the action. Yet thrashing beneath that control, the film is submerged in ambiguities and incongruencies.
In his 1943 novel Joseph and His Brothers, Mannâin exile from Nazi Germanyâwrote, âDo not assume the human beingâs deepest concern is for peace, tranquility, the preservation of the carefully erected structure of his life from shattering and collapse. Too much evidence goes to show that he is headed straight toward ecstasy and ruinâand thanks nobody who holds him back.â True to Mann, Viscontiâs Death in Venice details the self-evisceration of an individualâsâand nationâsâproud ideals. Not reconciling such ideals with the demonic is a grave error. The dying Aschenbach spies Tadzio in the sun kissed Adriatic, unable or unwilling to see the specter of fascism and two World Wars over the horizon.
The only version of Death in Venice available to most viewers since 2004 was the Warner Home Video DVD, which offered a patchy transfer worthy of Aschenbachâs own corporeal entropy. Comparatively, Criterionâs release, which comes from a new 4K digital restoration, is akin to Tadzio himself. Throughout, the colors are newly, vibrantly saturated, allowing the widescreen compositions to shimmer in ways they havenât since, surely, the filmâs original theatrical release. Thereâs also an exceptional clarity to the spectrum of skin tones, from Aschenbachâs deathly pallor to Tadzioâs youthful, full-blooded beauty. Another drawback of the old DVD was its often unintelligible dialogue, as well as how it made the wall-to-wall Mahler compositions sound like they were pulled from a secondhand recording. Criterionâs uncompressed monaural soundtrack breathes new life into the filmâs corpse, as it were, with the sound effects (such as the oars brushing through Veniceâs ravines) boasting a profound crispness. The dialogue is perfectly intelligible and the dubbingâhowever flagrantânever strident. Mahlerâs strings donât blare out so much as sweep in smoothly like a tide.
The most informative extra here features literary and cinema scholar Stefano Albertini, who digs deep into the genesis and themes of the film, in particular its place in Viscontiâs âGerman trilogyâ alongside The Damned and Ludwig and the directorâs lifelong adoration of Thomas Mann. A 1971 short film by Visconti documents his continent-wide search for a boy to play Tadzio. When we see BjĂ¶rn AndrĂ©sen being auditioned in Helsinki, itâs obvious that heâs the stand-out, but even Visconti admits the boyâtoo tall and too oldâisnât at all perfect (the process will probably touch a disturbing third rail for viewers, given how this search relates to the story of erotic attachment for a child just broaching pubescence).
The grandest extra, though, is an hour-long TV documentary about Viscontiâs life and work titled Visconti: Life as in a Novel. It doesnât offer anything in particular that will be new to the filmmakerâs more ardent fans, but it features engrossing interviews with some of Viscontiâs more notable collaborators, such as Burt Lancaster, Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, and Silvana Mangano. There are also excerpts from a 2006 interview with Piero Tosi, whose journey with Visconti went from working as a lowly design assistantâwho could only talk to the filmmaker through intermediariesâto finally graduating to the role of costume designer on several of Viscontiâs later films, including Death in Venice.
A brief 1971 film festival interview with Visconti is of interest in how the aging director admits he doesnât understand the new generation of filmmakers. Ported over from the Warner DVD is Viscontiâs Venice, a rather ho-hum behind-the-scenes documentary filmed during Death in Veniceâs production. Finally, the discâs accompanying essay, âRuinous Infatuationâ by Dennis Lim, is a rewarding encapsulation of the film as a work of adaptation and how Visconti tackles the challenge of a turning a novella rife with metaphor and symbols into something tactile.
Criterionâs release breathes new life into a self-appraising late period work thatâs a lavish and lugubrious meditation on art and death.
Cast: Dirk Bogarde, BjĂ¶rn AndrĂ©sen, Romolo Valli, Mark Burns, Nora Ricci, Marisa Berenson, Carole AndrĂ©, Silvana Mangano. Director: Luchino Visconti Screenwriter: Luchino Visconti, Nicola Badalucco Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 131 min Rating: NR Year: 1971 Release Date: February 19, 2019 Buy: Video
Blu-ray Review: Carlos Reygadasâs JapĂłn on the Criterion Collection
Criterion has graced us with an intoxicatingly beautiful release of a strange and challenging film.4
Itâs unlikely that Susan Sontag ever saw Carlos Reygadasâs debut feature, JapĂłn, which made the festival rounds just a couple of years before the writerâs death in 2004, but if she had, she might well have recognized in the young Mexican auteur a kindred spiritâan artist whose work achieves (or at least attempts to achieve) what Sontag identified in her classic 1964 essay âAgainst Interpretationâ as the mark of all good films: âa directness that entirely frees us from the itch to interpret.â Because while JapĂłn is rife with religious iconography, socio-political observations, and heady filmic allusions, it never seems to be saying something (a pejorative phrase for Sontag) about Christianity, Mexican society, or cinema itself.
An unnamed traveler (Alejandro Ferretis) journeys to a remote village to commit suicide, only to find himself strangely absorbed in the life of an elderly woman, Ascen (Magdalena Flores), with whom he stays. Itâs a simple story that Reygadas approaches with a sense of wonder that borders on naĂŻvetĂ©. Far less concerned with what his film says than in how it sees, Reygadas attempts nothing less than to recapture for the audience the feeling of perceiving the world for the first time. Shooting in a highly unusual 16-mm Cinemascope format, Reygadas expands our field of vision with the super-widescreen aspect ratio while at the same time reminding us of the limits of our perception by rounding off the corners of the image, which places the entire film in a subtle frame. The breathtaking vistas of the valley where most of JapĂłn takes place takes on an eerie and disorienting aura when viewed through the grainy textures and washed-out color palette of Reygadasâs low-budget film stock.
JapĂłn begins in the city, with a strangely unsettling montage of shots filmed from a vehicle moving through traffic, tunnels, and fog, all set to an ominous orchestral score. This opening exudes a tantalizing sci-fi vibe, a feeling of uncanniness that carries through to the rest of the film as Ferretisâs character treks across the countryside, a stranger in a strange land. His first action out here in the wilderness is simultaneously brutal and magical: He decapitates a bird with his bare hands, after which its head lies on the ground, continuing to caw. It wonât be the last instance of shocking, senseless violence the film will expose us to.
As in his later work, Reygadas isnât particularly concerned with constructing a narrative or probing his charactersâ psychology. Rather, he cycles through various narrative modes; at times we seem to be watching a parable-like tale of suicide in the vein of Abbas Kiarostamiâs Taste of Cherry, at others an absurd, darkly comic journey like that of K. in Kafkaâs The Castle, and at others a brutal, Herzogian struggle against the elements. Similarly, the behavior of the characters can often seem as arbitrary as the narrative curlicues, even downright weird. Why does Ferretisâs character want to kill himself? Why does he later propose to Ascen, out of the blue, that they have sex? And why does she accept? Not only are these questions left unanswered, but even to ask them feels somehow beside the point. Reygadas asks us not to analyze particular actions, but to feel them in all their elemental strangeness.
Not that everything in JapĂłn is successful in attaining this feeling, as the ambling narrative pace can at times come off as pointless, and Reygadasâs long takes can sometimes seem like little more than patience-testing provocations. The overall effect of the film, however, is one of metaphysical intoxication, a kind of heady gratification brought on by the beauty of Reygadasâs images and the sheer eccentricity of the world the film conjures. In the filmâs most memorable sequence, Reygadas depicts with impenitent matter-of-factness his main characters having sex. The filmmaker isnât trying to turn us on, nor is he attempting to shock us with the unvarnished sight of two older peopleâs starkly naked forms. Rather, the scene provides the natural culmination of the main characterâs journey. His is a quest for higher meaning that inexorably leads back to the base satisfaction of his animal urges.
The new 2K digital restoration of JapĂłn, supervised by Carlos Reygadas, honors the filmâs strange, intoxicating imagery. Despite some small but noticeable image shuddering during a few of the filmâs panning shots, itâs safe to say that Reygadasâs film hasnât looked this good since its initial theatrical rollout. This release preserves the filmâs muted yet striking color palette and the gorgeous granularity of its unique 16-mm Cinemascope cinematography. The DTS-HD Master Audio surround soundtrack which highlights the rich sonic environment of the film, from the remarkable subtleties of wind and animal sounds to spectacularly rich music cues from the likes of Bach and Arvo PĂ€rt. This meticulous preservation effort makes a case for JapĂłn as one of the most visually singular debut features of the 21st century.
The discâs most notable feature is a conversation between Reygadas and filmmaker Amat Escalante that goes deep into the formerâs creative process, influences, and biography. The interview provides a particularly incisive look at Reygadasâs use of storyboards, some of which are also reproduced in the releaseâs attractive full-color booklet along with production photos and a high-spirited essay by novelist Valeria Luiselli. Also included is Adulte, a Deren-esque short made by Reygadas as a way of teaching himself filmmaking, as well as a deleted scene, a trailer, and a video diary of the production shot by lead actor Alejandro Ferretis. Itâs a rich assortment of supplementary materials that provides useful background on Reygadasâs creative methods without attempting to provide any answers to the filmâs mysteries.
In restoring JapĂłn to its original glory, the Criterion Collection has graced us with an intoxicatingly beautiful release of a strange and challenging film.
Cast: Alejandro Ferretis, Magdalena Flores, Yolanda Villa, MartĂn Serrano, Rolando HernĂĄndez, Bernabe PĂ©rez, Fernando BenĂtez Director: Carlos Reygadas Screenwriter: Carlos Reygadas Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 134 min Rating: R Year: 2002 Release Date: March 26, 2019 Buy: Video
Review: Kogonadaâs Columbus on Oscilloscope Laboratories Blu-ray
Kogonadaâs elegant and moving narrative debut has been outfitted with a lovely transfer that will hopefully expose the film to new audiences.4
Early in Kogonadaâs Columbus, Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) and an unnamed co-worker (Rory Culkin) discuss the notion of attention bias. When people prefer video games to reading, the co-worker says, theyâre often said to have a short attention span, even if theyâre concentrating on video games for hours at a time. However, a reader whoâs unable to engage with video games is unlikely to weather the same criticism. Casey and her co-worker are both bookish young people, intellectuals in the making, who clearly favor reading over most anything else. But Culkinâs character raises an evocative and perhaps alarming point, challenging the tendency of readers and other connoisseurs of art to believe that their interests render them better people and are superior to other peopleâs pursuits. Is art another evasion for the introvert? The co-worker asks Casey, âAre we losing interest in everyday life?â
It might not occur to the audience until much later in the film that the co-worker is telling Casey that heâs in love with her, asking this guarded and intelligent young woman to truly see the person facing her every day among the comforting cavernousness of the library. This conflict would be enough for a good film, but Kogonada, who challenges every potential platitude that he uncovers, allows us to see that the co-worker also gently and almost imperceptibly retreats from Casey when she opens up to him.
Columbus is invested with the empathy, curiosity, and attention to detail that drive the video essays that Kogonada has produced for the Criterion Collection and Sight & Sound, among other places. A key to the film resides in a question that Kogonada posed in his extraordinary analysis of the work of director Hirokazu Kore-eda: âDoes cinema offer escape from this world? Or deeper entrance?â These concerns implicitly fuel the co-workerâs occupation with attention bias, and they elucidate Caseyâs obsession with the modernist architecture in their hometown of Columbus, Indiana. Art heightens a connection to the world, nurturing a sensitivity and an awareness of oneâs surroundings, but it can quickly become an introvertâs crutch, providing an illusion of a life lived in full, rather than as an existence devoted to collecting and analyzing the ghosts of other artistsâ dreams.
Kogonada surveys the townâs architecture with the exacting, worshipful eye that heâs brought to analyzing the cinema of his heroes, and itâs impossible not to wonder if Caseyâs awakeningâher discovery of her right to live her own life and to create her own artâis representative of Kogonadaâs own drive to create. Like his video essays, Columbus is intensely occupied with the ways in which the space and symmetry of images reveal character and emotion.
As Culkinâs character discusses attention bias, our gaze is drawn to the square pattern in the libraryâs ceiling, which suggests a kind of cubist green quilt with lights housed in each geometric structureâthe sort of wonderful texture that the co-worker feels they may be missing. A little later, Casey observes that a church has been designed with a deliberate sense of asymmetry, yet its total effect is one of balance. Every image is rich in striking, supple through lines and prisms, which are often made asymmetrical by the placing of human characters in the frame, celebrating the unlikely wealth of art that abounds in this town, capable of being beholden by citizens of all walks of life, as well as the distance from life that art can both obfuscate and crystallize.
Kogonada doesnât fall for the false dichotomy between intelligence and emotion that frequently mars American culture, understanding thatâfor people such as Casey, her co-worker, and a visiting Korean book translator, Jin (John Cho)âintelligence is emotion, as well as a code of morality. Casey and Jin meet and engage in an erudite courtship thatâs nearly unprecedented in American cinema, which Richardson and Cho perform with a lucid and magnificently poignant sense of control. The seeming miracle of Columbus is its mixture of formal precision with a philosophical grasp of human mystery, which recalls the work of Kogonada heroes such as Hitchcock, Tarkovsky, and Antonioni. Until the ending, Casey and Jin are often refracted through mirrors and other surfaces when they risk revealing too much of their pain and desire, suggesting their urge to efface themselves with their interests and blend into the nesting designs that comprise the grand patterns of life.
A relationship between symmetry and asymmetry governs the images as well as the narrative structure. Jinâs emotionally trapped by estrangement from his ailing father while Casey is, by contrast, suppressed by her devotion to her recovering meth-addicted mother (Michelle Forbes), which she uses as a front for her intellectual insecurity. A few scenes into Columbus, we see a shot of traffic flowing underneath the triangular Second Street Bridge, which we can assume to represent Jinâs arrival into town. Near the end of the film, Casey leaves under the same bridge to pursue her dream of studying architecture. This entrance and exit represent both a symmetry (one person is traded in Columbus for another) as well as an asymmetry, as Kogonada couldâve easily positioned the entrance and the exit as the exact beginning and ending of the film but doesnât, though Columbus has a pervading emotional balanceâa sense of two lives granting themselves the possibility of transcendence.
Kogonada offers, to use a phrase coined by Caseyâs co-worker, a âcritique of a critique,â as the rapturous clarity of his own images is the very source of his interrogation. In the context of this film, symmetry can mean a balance of life and art or refer to order thatâs imposed on life, draining it of vitality. Meanwhile, asymmetry can evoke the wonderful chaos of life, or connote a lack of balance, as artists and aficionados retreat definitively into their own obsessions. Balance is tricky, in other words, and these anxious riddles inform the surpassingly beautiful Columbus with probing human thorniness, as itâs an art object gripped by the possibility that art, in the right light, can insidiously launder alienation. Though life without art, for people such as Casey and Jin, is akin to life without life.
The image is strikingly attractive, honoring Kogonadaâs symmetrical, colorful compositions, the beauty and fastidiousness of which reflect the emotions of characters who qualify their yearnings via discussions of architectural aesthetics. Colors are sharpâperhaps sharper than they were in the theaterâand details are plentiful, with particular textural emphasis accorded to the buildings that serve as a kind of visual Greek chorus. The soundtrack is necessarily subtle, as this a film thatâs often composed of silence and whispers, which are well-balanced here with a rich score and the minute sounds of the everyday.
The most notable supplement is a select scene audio commentary by actors John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson, whoâre both intelligent, sensitive, intuitive performers who seem to enjoy a camaraderie similar to that of their on-screen counterparts. They speak of the various physical challenges inherent to their roles, particularly Richardsonâs stillness in the film, which is somewhat at odds with her more frenetic way of being in real life. Cho and Richardson also celebrate working with Kogonada, whom they cumulatively describe as having an exact yet flexible vision. The deleted scenes are fine on their own, offering additional texture about the protagonists, though not revelatory. (In other words, they were justifiably cut.) A seven-minute short film by Kogonada, âColumbus Story,â free-associatively mixes footage of making the film with additional narration about the buildings of Columbus, Indiana. The theatrical trailer rounds out a slim but charming package.
Kogonadaâs elegant and moving narrative debut has been outfitted with a lovely transfer that will hopefully expose the film to new audiences.
Cast: Haley Lu Richardson, John Cho, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin, Michelle Forbes, Erin Allegretti Director: Kogonada Screenwriter: Kogonada Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories Running Time: 103 min Rating: NR Year: 2017 Release Date: March 26, 2019 Buy: Video
Blu-ray Review: Robert Zemeckisâs I Wanna Hold Your Hand on the Criterion Collection
The discâs 4K restoration offers Zemeckisâs debut, a madcap celebration of the pop-cultural phenomena, a chance at a second life.3.5
Robert Zemeckisâs I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a film with the absurdist bent of a funhouse mirror. Set around the Beatlesâs iconic 1964 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the film is refreshingly free of baby-boomer nostalgia for a more innocent time. Zemeckis instead fully embraces the âmaniaâ in Beatlemania, setting his focus on both the bandâs fans and no less crazed haters and leaving the Fab Four on the fringes of the film (theyâre only seen in archival footage and shots where the actors playing them are framed from behind or the waist down).
Zemeckisâs directorial debut unfolds in a series of mini-narratives that follow a group of New Jersey teens who make their way to New York City hoping to score tickets to the Beatlesâs first live U.S. television appearance, or at least see them at the exclusive hotel where theyâre holed up. Zemeckis and co-screenwriter Bob Gale capture not only the sheer lunacy of a wildly obsessive and fiercely loyal fandom, but also the various shades that exist within and around that distinctive subculture.
The loudest and most boisterous of this bunch is Rosie (Wendie Jo Sperber), who doesnât hesitate to jump out of a moving car or break into a strangerâs hotel room if it means getting to a phone from which she can call the radio station giving away tickets to attend The Ed Sullivan Show. But where Rosie is the prototypical teenage Beatles fan, fainting at even a cardboard cutout of the dreamy Paul McCartney, sheâs surrounded by friends and classmates whose motives for making the trip are less than pure.
The street-smart Grace (Theresa Saldana) arrives on the scene with camera in hand, hoping to get a snapshot of the band so as to jump-start her journalism career, and it isnât long into the film before she finds herself moving on from her relatively innocent scam of selling squares of bed sheets the Beatles supposedly slept on to flirting with prostitution to get enough money to bribe her way into The Ed Sullivan Show. And then thereâs the recently engaged Pam (Nancy Allen), who begrudgingly tags along with her friends in spite of knowing that her fiancĂ© will be jealous. Of course, her worries quickly melt away later on when she finds herself alone in the bandâs hotel room, where she tucks her engagement ring in her shoe before stroking and kissing the phallic neck of McCartneyâs bass guitar as if it were a lover.
Lest it be populated entirely with fangirls, I Wanna Hold Your Hand also offers up an artsy poseur, Janis (Susan Kendall Newman), and post-greaser tough guy, Tony (Bobby Di Cicco), as prospective foils to Beatles fans everywhere. Janis and Tony join in on the fun only to protest the bandâs sudden domination of the countryâs entire cultural landscape. Where Janis sees the Brits overshadowing more socially important music like that of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Tony yearns for a time when the Four Seasons and Elvis were still on top. Such anti-Beatles furor also torments the younger Peter (Christian Juttner), whose conservative father (Read Morgan) employs a one-eyed barber (Newton Arnold) to chop off his sonâs mop top, only to be saved by Janis and Tony in an act of generational camaraderie.
Along with the onslaught of intricate and humorous character details that help form its multifaceted portrait of its particular cultural zeitgeist, I Wanna Hold Your Hand is defined by its relentlessly manic energy. Zemeckisâs fondness for Looney Tunes, which would be on more explicit display in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, is already in full effect here in the consistently heightened, cartoonish quality of the slapstick. From the often-spastic nature of the actorsâ movements (particularly those of Eddie Deezen in his Jerry Lewis-like interpretation of a crazed Beatles trivia nerd) and their comically twisted facial expressions to the sheer speed of the action which is amplified throughout by undercranking the image, everything in I Wanna Hold Your Hand is pushed right up to the breaking point of absurdity. The lunacy of pop-culture infatuation is lent the undying fervor of a fever dream.
The Criterion Collectionâs transfer, from a new 4K restoration, is quite remarkable. The image is so crisp and clear that itâs hard to believe that I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a relatively low-budget film shot over 40 years ago. The reds and blues especially pop, and there are warm yet naturalistic hues to the actorsâ skin tones. The contrast of the image is also perfectly calibrated, allowing for the highest quality and detail in both the brighter outdoor sequences and darker interiors. The 5.1 audio track is also beautifully layered, giving the numerous Beatles tracks a booming intensity, while the rapid dialogue remains clean and easy to decipher throughout. If thereâs a minor flaw, itâs the slight disparity between those dialogue and music tracks, which may have you occasionally adjusting your volume level.
The beefiest extra on the disc is the 2004 audio commentary with Robert Zemeckis and co-writer and frequent collaborator Bob Gale. While their focus is more on I Wanna Hold Your Handâs production than on breaking down the film in any meaningful way, they provide a wonderful variety of amusing on-set stories and insight into their casting process and how they ended up working with their mentor, Steven Spielberg, on the film. The discussion is brisk and light-hearted, which is fitting given how free and loose-limbed I Wanna Hold Your Hand is, but it also details Zemeckis and Galeâs process of working with mostly inexperienced actors and how many of the more challenging shots were accomplished.
The recent interview with Zemeckis, Gale, and Spielberg covers much of the same ground as the commentary, with some additional campfire stories pertaining to their later collaborations with John Milius thrown in for good measure. In Nancy Allen and Marc McClureâs accompanying interview, the actors talk about their fascinating experiences during the casting process, though they too often default to lavishing praise on Zemeckis and restating how enjoyable it was to work on the film. The release also includes an essay by Scott Tobias and two of Zemeckisâs student films, The Lift and A Field of Honor, the latter of which provides an interesting glimpse at his propensity for manic absurdism in its embryonic form.
The discâs beautiful 4K restoration offers Robert Zemeckisâs debut, a madcap celebration of the pop-cultural phenomena, a chance at a second life.
Cast: Nancy Allen, Bobby Di Cicco, Marc McClure, Susan Kendall Newman, Theresa Saldana, Wendie Jo Sperber, Eddie Deezan, Christian Juttner, Will Jordan, Read Morgan, Dick Miller Director: Robert Zemeckis Screenwriter: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 104 min Rating: PG Year: 1978 Release Date: March 26, 2019 Buy: Video
Review: Douglas Sirkâs The Tarnished Angels on Kino Blu-ray
The Blu-ray boasts an exciting transfer of one of Douglas Sirkâs most visually resplendent films.5
Through the prism of the Technicolor camera, Douglas Sirkâs All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind elaborate on the perceived comforts of middle-class life. In these cinematic realms, the brightest of colors enliven the finely decorated homes of characters who, on the surface, appear to be living their ideal lives. As Jane Wymanâs Cary Scott from All That Heaven Allows sits in her living room across from a brand new televisionâa Christmas gift from her grown childrenânear the end of the film, Sirk offers up a seemingly picturesque snapshot of her class-based satisfaction. Yet the irony is clear: The children, having objected to their motherâs relationship with a man beneath her social class, see her as something to be tended to, not someone to really care for as an emotional being.
If these kinds of slippery distinctions between a characterâs contentment and devastation tend to define Sirkâs oeuvre, then the New Orleans-set The Tarnished Angels finds the director slightly modifying his standard themes to examine the thin line between achieving happiness and crashing and burning in pursuit of it. Death literally looms large over Roger Schumann (Robert Stack), a World War I fighter pilot turned daredevil who takes to the sky as part of an airshow around the time of Mardi Gras. Stack plays him as an outright bastard plagued by undiagnosed PTSD; though not physically violent toward his wife, LaVerne (Dorothy Malone), and son, Jack (Christopher Olsen), Roger weaves a web of psychological entrapment that, at one point, involves him suggesting that LaVerne should sleep with local honcho Matt Ord (Robert Middleton) so that Roger might gain access to a particular plane.
The Tarnished Angels, written by George Zuckerman, complicates character motivation and action by using flashbacks and ellipses that sometimes make it difficult to discern when, or even if, certain events are taking place. Sirk uses black-and-white images to stage a contrast between the oneiric promise of the filmâs nostalgic feelings for past glories and the stark reality its characters face when death comes knocking at their door.
Sirk frames the Schumann family as a nearly grotesque extreme of the American dream; from afar, they might appear to have obtained an intractable happiness. However, The Tarnished Angels uses journalist Burke Devlin (Rock Hudson) as a conduit for the viewer to realize that, in close-up, these are damaged human beings with little grip on their lives. That Devlin, too, is no better equipped to navigate his alcoholism and wayward idealism indicates Sirkâs perception of the fundamentally fractured logic that often founds a sense of duty to a particular cause. In Devlinâs case, his affection for LaVerne, combined with his drinking problem, clouds an ability to act rather than speak in grandiloquent terms.
The film makes the act of looking a significant part of the story, with several scenes featuring shots of audiences gawking and howling in appreciation as Roger flirts with death. When one flying event takes a tragic turnâand a screeching airplane hurls toward the grandstandsâSirk prompts us to ask if the inclination to watch near-death spectacle is an unconscious way of wanting to vicariously experience death. That Roger didnât perish in WWI but plunges into the sand while displaying his aeronautical prowess for a stateside audience reinforces the theme of self-imprisonment, both personal and cultural, that runs throughout Sirkâs work.
Like Billy Wilderâs Ace in the Hole, which creates a damning critique of media circuses that would allow a man to die if it means increasing readership, The Tarnished Angels understands the innate human desire to look at beauty or terror as the potentially catastrophic fuel of public interest. Yet, while Wilder never turned that critique on himself or his own film, Sirk, ever the craftsman of multi-vision art, sees that heâs no saint himself.
The depth of field during the filmâs airshow sequences is remarkable, while close-ups of faces are nicely textured. The black-and-white cinematography is consistently balanced throughout. While there are occasional small scratches or bits of debris that are visible within the frame, they donât considerably distract from the viewing experience. The DTS-HD Master Audio track maximizes the potency of Frank Skinnerâs memorable score, while the dialogue is clear and crisp. There are no distracting pops, hisses, or screeches.
The sole extra of note is a lovely feature-length commentary track by film historian Imogen Sarah Smith, who contextualizes Sirkâs career while offering an insightful reading of the film itself. Smith has put in the work here, speaking almost nonstop from beginning to end in a style that accomplishes the depth and rigor of a masterâs thesis, with dates, names, and tidbits so thoroughly entwined with analysis that itâs an immediately essential listen for anyone whoâs serious about their knowledge or study of Sirk. Smithâs tone is also conversational, leaning as she does on personalized takes on the characters; especially amusing, and succinct, is her explanation of Burke Devlinâs faults. The filmâs theatrical trailer is also included.
Kino Lorberâs Blu-ray boasts a smashing feature-length commentary and an exciting transfer of one of Douglas Sirkâs most visually resplendent films.
Cast: Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, Jack Carson, Christopher Olsen, Robert Middleton, Troy Donahue, Alan Reed, William Schallert Director: Douglas Sirk Screenwriter: George Zuckerman Distributor: Kino Lorber Running Time: 91 min Rating: NR Year: 1957 Buy: Video
Blu-ray Review: Barbara Lodenâs Wanda on the Criterion Collection
Criterion has outfitted Barbara Lodenâs Wanda with a beautifully rough-and-tumble transfer.4
In Wandaâs first few minutes, writer-director-actor Barbara Loden renders the heart of Americaâs coal country with an empathetic scope thatâs unrivaled in our countryâs narrative cinema. Itâs not Lodenâs attention to miseryâthe wasteland of the gravel pits, the dirty dishes and Coke and beer bottles littered about indifferently, the altogether cramped and dingy homesâthat distinguishes her vision, but her sense of the beauty that crops up even in lives of hardship. This film has a wonderful, hard-won sense of everyday rapture.
Before Loden cuts to a screaming childâthe sort of image thatâs common to earnest films geared toward bringing about social reformâthe filmmaker lingers on a shot of an elderly woman looking out a window as the sun shines in and casts her in heavenly light. Such a grace note suggests the possibility of refuge in this world, illustrating the thoroughness and breadth of Lodenâs curiosity. Quickly afterward, in a heartbreakingly brief and casual interlude, Loden lingers on a woman (Dorothy Shupenes) getting out of bed and sighing before addressing the screaming child, steeling herself for the day.
Those who know nothing about Lodenâs film may assume that this woman is Wanda, and as such our protagonist, but sheâs really Wandaâs sister. Wanda (Loden) is revealed soon enough, crashed out on her sisterâs couch, her presence causing problems between the sister and the latterâs husband (Peter Shupenes), who storms out without taking his coffee. Wanda, a lost soul, doesnât seem to belong to the world of the Pennsylvania coal mines as intently as her sister does, and her sense of misplacement mirrors our own. This isnât to say that Loden telegraphs or âindicatesâ in the manner of an actor who might be touring Americaâs un-prosperous nooks and crannies for an Oscar. When Loden telegraphs, itâs always in character.
Often, Wanda arises from her sisterâs couch, or a motel bed she just shared with a stranger who picked up her tab the night before, and holds her head in a universal sign of a godawful hangover. For Wanda, such a gesture is a cry for helpâa break from her pervading insularity and illusiveness, which Loden renders with a committed and poignant airiness. Lodenâs performance is a prodigious and ecstatic blend of naturalism and expressionism.
The filmâs first act establishes Wandaâs aimless routine with merciless and detailed precision. We learn that she abandoned her family and canât be bothered to fight for custody of her kids. In a court hearing, Loden allows us to see something that the other characters canât or wonât recognize: that Wanda is unbearably depressed almost to the point of muteness. Wanda tries to get her job at a dress manufacturer back, but is told sheâs too slow right after sheâs informed that taxes get roughly 65 percent of what she was already owed. All that seems to remain for her are the bars and the one-night stands, which Loden renders with a sensitivity thatâs as keen and insightful as the scenes set in Wandaâs sisterâs house. Men call Wanda âtootsieâ and âblondieâ and treat her with unveiled contempt, regarding her as a nuisance, a drunk, and a whore. Such moments acutely allow one to sense the discomfort of a woman whoâs subjected endlessly to unfeeling male scrutiny, recalling the similarly visceral films of Ida Lupino.
Just as the viewer settles in for the ride, perhaps presuming Wanda to be composed entirely of a drunkâs hopeless grasps for communion, Loden springs a conceit thatâs daring in this context, threatening the stability of her closely observed character study. Wandering into one of her regular bars to clean up as best she can in the bathroom, she meets Norman Dennis (Michael Higgins), a bartender whoâs actually a criminal holding up the joint.
As Norman, Higgins disrupts the filmâs tender, depressive rhythms. Wanda is a modern portrait of a woman whoâs subjecting herself to primordial sexism, while Norman, whom Wanda always calls âMr. Dennis,â is a pointedly retro throwback to the male criminals of 1940s-era American cinema. Curt and squarely bespectacled, with a mustache that adds at least 10 years to his appearance, Norman is weirdly commanding in his confidence in his own skin, in the intensity of his conviction in his own old-fogey-ness.
Wanda goes on the road with Norman and the two become lovers on a crime spree in a trope thatâs nearly as old as the movies, as if Wandaâs life became so untenable that a divine presence offered her an escape hatch through the rituals of genre cinema. In certain fashions, Norman is no less condescending to Wanda than anyone else, though thereâs an unusual respect evident in his refusal to flatter her. He often prefaces his orders with âwhen youâre with me,â and the implication of this line is obvious: that she can either take it or leave it. Norman isnât born of any fashionable act of man-hating, as weâre allowed to see his own miseryâhis inability to receive love. Comically and tragically, he tells Wanda that he doesnât like âfriendlyâ types as she caresses him after they have sex.
Loden also uncomfortably shows how Normanâs dictatorial ways fulfill Wanda. Norman asks her to dress differently, more like a woman before womenâs liberation, and she looks happier and more comfortable in her skin. Loden understands that gender relationships canât be reduced to think pieces and anal-retentive tabulations of how often women discuss men, as there are yearnings, pounded into us from cultural regiments, that seek expression whether or not theyâre reputable. Wanda has wanted a Norman Dennis to come into her life and take control and give her function and meaning. Is this relationship a product of a kind of desperate Stockholm syndrome? Emotionally, this distinction almost seems beside the point.
Opposite Higgins, the carefully sustained flakiness of Lodenâs performance becomes funny in a fashion that complicates its pathos. And this ironic flowering softens our guard for the hammer that falls in the third act, when the genre fantasy collapses and Wanda returns to the bars and the motels, alone among a crowd, searching for another qualified Prince Charming, settling for a beer, a smoke, a hot dog, and another night she wonât remember.
Thereâs a hearty amount of grain in this image, reflecting Wandaâs sparse budget and docudramatic aesthetic. Colors are surprisingly rich and intense, particularly reds and blues. And textural details, which are the manna of this filmâs power, are extraordinary. One can see the thin materials of Wandaâs worn-down wardrobe, and the way that beer cans are illuminated by shards of punishing morning sunlight. The soundtrack is a bit variableâitâs not always entirely hear what characters are sayingâbut this flaw appears to truthfully reflect the source material, deepening the filmâs fly-on-the-wall verisimilitude. Secondary soundsâof sewing machines, cars, and beer cans being popped open, for instanceâare quite crisp and lifelike.
Katja Raganelliâs 60-minute documentary I Am Wanda features intimate footage of Barbara Loden in 1980 not long before she succumbed to cancer. We see Loden coaching actors and reading passages from books at the dinner table with her children and husband, Elia Kazan, among other things. Loden discusses filmmaking and her artistic process with a sadness and vulnerability that, given the context of her illness, is almost unbearably moving. This sadness is also evident in the talk that Loden had with students at the American Film Institute in 1971, as she outlines the challenges of making a low-budget film.
One of the more fascinating inclusions in this supplements package is âThe Frontier Experience,â a short educational film that Loden directed about a pioneer womanâs struggles in the largely uninhabited Kansas plains in the late 1800s. The film has the same emphasis on detail as Wanda, with long pauses and bustling winds that emphasize the grueling loneliness, and danger, of frontier life. Rounding out this package is a clip from Lodenâs appearance in 1971 on The Dick Cavett Show, in which she artfully handles sexist condescension, Wandaâs theatrical trailer, and a booklet with an essay by film critic Amy Taubin that emphasizes how viscerally personal Wanda was to Loden.
Criterion has outfitted Barbara Lodenâs Wanda with a beautifully rough-and-tumble transfer as well as supplements that movingly elaborate on the filmmakerâs life.
Cast: Barbara Loden, Michael Higgins, Dorothy Shupenes, Peter Shupenes, Jerome Thier, Marian Thier, Anthony Rotell Director: Barbara Loden Screenwriter: Barbara Loden Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 102 min Rating: NR Year: 1970 Release Date: March 19, 2019 Buy: Video
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