American Sniper (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – For the past couple of decades, one-time screen superstar Clint Eastwood has been more active behind the camera than in front of it, plugging along with his old school filmmaking with a consistency that is hard to match. He’s already won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars twice (for Unforgiven, 1992, and Million Dollar Baby, 2004). And at age 85, he had the biggest hit of his career: American Sniper, based on the memoir by Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle. The real-life Kyle who racked up more confirmed kills during his tour of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq than any other marksman in U.S. Navy history. He was also, as expressed in his memoir, an unrepentant bigot who saw the Iraqis as animals and admitted that he found killing people “fun.”
The movie has more in its mind than exploring Kyle’s psyche, or at least this aspect of it. He’s played by Bradley Cooper, who pumped up for the role and plays the part with unshakable belief and confidence in his mission, and the film is about what inspired him to enlist and the toll of combat on his psyche. Kyle has a sense of duty and honor that is ignited when American embassies are attacked overseas, and as his commitment (and reputation as a marksman) grows, his ability to function stateside as a husband and father diminishes. He’s more comfortable leading combat missions than being there to support his wife Taya (Sienna Miller), who is torn apart every time to re-ups for another tour of duty. Eastwood’s clean, strong storytelling is perfect for the story and his direction of the combat scenes is all the more powerful for its clarity and focus. Kyle has to make life and death decisions in the field. His targets include women and children. He doesn’t want to kill any innocents, but protecting his men is his mission.
Eastwood steers clear of politics—it’s not about questioning the mission, it’s about how this kind of warfare wounds victims and survivors alike and how the skills and temperament necessary to be a good (if not great) soldier in combat are a detriment to living in peacetime. And while conservatives appreciated the film’s valorization of service and the military culture of duty and comradeship, liberals saw the message of how the same military culture that turned them into soldiers fails to retrain them for stateside life. For that, Kyle turns to fellow vets and once again becomes a leader of men.
This film was an unexpected blockbuster, earning over $350 million in the U.S, and it was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Cooper), Best Adapted Screenplay, and it won for Best Achievement in Sound Editing.
Blu-ray and DVD, with the half-hour featurettes “One Soldier’s Story: The Journey of American Sniper” and “The Making of American Sniper” and an Ultraviolet Digital copy of the film. The Blu-ray also features a bonus DVD and Digital HD copy of the film.
Limelight (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), the final film that Charlie Chaplin made in the U.S., is both a bittersweet sentimental drama and a tribute to the music hall era of entertainment. Chaplin stars as a former vaudeville star now reduced to penury, living in a rundown boarding house and scraping by on occasional booking, and Claire Bloom is the delicate, young ballet dancer he saves from a suicide attempt and nurses back to health. Chaplin casts Buster Keaton for a single scene as his partner in a comic duet, making this film the only time the two silent comedy greats ever worked together, and the scene is wonderful. (Legend has it that Chaplin shortened the scene because Keaton was “too good” and kept drawing attention from him.) Nigel Bruce, Norman Lloyd, and Sydney Chaplin (Charlie’s brother) co-star, silent star Snub Pollard has a bit part, and Chaplin’s longtime silent movie co-star Edna Purviance made her final screen appearance in an unbilled role. Just as the film was released, Chaplin was denied re-entry to the United States for suspected Communist leanings (this was the height of red scare hysteria and the Hollywood blacklist) and the film was pulled from release as theaters cancelled screenings. Chaplin’s score won an Academy Award in 1973, after the film’s belated 1972 theatrical release in Los Angeles.
Criterion continues its Chaplin releases with a new 4K digital restoration. The Chaplin Estate took great care in preserving Chaplin’s legacy and he owned almost all of his feature films outright, so the elements are available and well-cared for. The previous edition looked just fine but this is beautiful. New to this edition are the video essay “Chaplin’s Limelight: Its Evolution and Intimacy” by David Robinson, interviews with actor Claire Bloom and Normal Lloyd, and the 1915 Chaplin short A Night in the Show. Carried over from the earlier DVD release are documentary featurette “Chaplin Today: Limelight” directed by Edgardo Cozarinsky for French TV, a four-minute scene deleted by Chaplin after the premiere, two excerpts from the original novel “Footlights” read by Chaplin, and the uncompleted 1919 short The Professor (where Chaplin played a flea-trainer for the first time). The accompanying booklet features an essay by silent movie historian Peter von Bagh and excerpts from a 1952 report from the set by journalist Henry Gris.
Day of the Outlaw (Timeless, DVD), a 1959 western set in a snowbound mountain town on the high frontier, is one of the toughest, most tension-filled pictures from Andre de Toth, a studio filmmaker who could be counted on to bring a savage edge to his assignments. The town is already coiled like a spring thanks to the tensions between imperious ranch baron Blaise Starrett (Robert Ryan) and a farmer (Alan Marshal) stringing barbed wire across the range—Blaise has come to town to either intimidate the proud farmer into back down or killing him to stop the wire—when an outlaw gang bursts in and essentially takes the town hostage. They’re on the run from the cavalry and their leader (Burl Ives) is bleeding out from a bullet wound, barely keeping his cutthroat gang in check.
The isolation of the town, a few building poking out of the muddy streets and surrounded by mountain ranges in the distance, feels even more adrift in the white blanket of snow cover and the wind howls through most every scene, enhancing the sense of desolation. It’s a spare visual design and de Toth leaves the dramatic compositions lean and simple and uncrowded. Ryan’s wound up stillness makes a great contrast to the increasingly jittery gang members, who pace and fiddle and keep moving toward the women. They look like they are about to fly apart like a bomb and start looting and raping, and the still intensity of Ives, who holds his gaze and his ground has he gives orders and watches over it all, is all that keeps it from combusting. A terrific, underappreciated western, it’s been on disc before in an edition now out of print. Timeless brings it back in a solid DVD edition at a bargain price. No supplements.
Society (Arrow / MVD, Blu-ray+DVD), the 1989 directorial debut of producer Brian Yuzna, is a blackly comic horror satire of class privilege, cabalistic incest, and cannibalism. Yes, the rich are different from us, as Yuzna so viscerally shows us. Billy Warlock is the all-American boy who discovers just how different he is from his family of upper-class snobs when he discovers the secret of those society functions he’s never invited to. It’s glib social satire, to be sure, but great paranoia. The grotesque special effects, which show in gooey detail just how the wealthy literally feed off the masses, are often clumsy but just surreal and twisted enough that it doesn’t really matter. Former centerfold Devin De Vasquez is the trashy rich girl who falls for our plebian hero.
Arrow presents the Blu-ray debut of the cult film with a rich collection of supplements, notably commentary by director Yuzna with moderators David Gregory and Carl Daft, the interview featurettes “Governor of Society” with director Yuzna, “Governor Of Society” with the cast, and “Champion Of The Shunt” with the special effects artists, and a Q&A with Yuzna from the 2014 Celluloid Screams Film Festival.
Also new and notable:
Leviathan (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD), from Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev (The Return and Elena) is the director’s most acclaimed picture yet. Set in a remote town set against the grand but bleak Arctic coast of Northern Russia, it’s an allegory of power and corruption in modern Russia played out in the struggle for a piece of land coveted by the town’s brutal mayor. It was Russia’s official entry for the Foreign Language Film Oscar and it won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and the Best Screenplay award at Cannes. In Russian with English subtitles.
The Blu-ray and DVD features commentary by director Zvyagintsev and producer Alexander Rodnyansky (in Russian with English subtitles) and the featurette “The Making of Leviathan.” The Blu-ray also features deleted scenes and a Q&A with Zvyagintsev from the Toronto Film Festival screening.
The 1958 sci-fi monster movie It! The Terror From Beyond Space (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) was, as any cult movie buff will tell you, a major inspiration for Alien, though this one has a man in a rubber suit crawling out of ventilation pipes and clawing through steel hatch doors. This is strictly B-movie stuff, with the crew firing pistols, launching grenades, even shooting off a bazooka in a pressurized space ship to fight the thing off, but it’s fun and this is a good-looking Blu-ray. No supplements.
The Rose (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), with Bette Midler as a Janis Joplin-like singer, gets the Criterion treatment.
New TV on disc this week includes Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Series (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD), Welcome to Sweden: The Complete First Season (eOne, DVD), and Glee: The Final Season (Fox, DVD) and Glee: The Complete Series (Fox, DVD). These and more will be covered in subsequent feature this week.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
Seventh Son, the adventure fantasy with Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore, is available on Cable On Demand a week before it arrives on disc.
Available for digital purchase in advance of disc are the spy thriller Kingsmen: The Secret Service (Fox, Digital HD), the animated feature The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (Paramount, Digital HD), and the documentary Red Army (Sony, Digital HD).
Classics and Cult:
Stigmata (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
Gene Autrey: Movie Collection 10 (The Singing Vagabond, Oh Susanna!, Rootn’ Tootn’ Rhythm, Western Jamboree) (Timeless, DVD)
Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
Evil Eye / The Girl Who Knew too Much (Kino Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Extremities (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Flawless (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Peter Benchley’s Creature (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Angel Baby (Scorpion, DVD)
TV on disc:
Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Series (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD)
Glee: The Final Season (Fox, DVD)
Glee: The Complete Series (Fox, DVD)
Welcome to Sweden: The Complete First Season (eOne, DVD)
Orange is the New Black: Season Two (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD)
Call the Midwife: Season 4 (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD)
American Dad: Volume 10 (Fox, DVD)
Rogue: The Complete Second Season (eOne, DVD)
CPO Sharkey: The Complete First Season (Time Life, DVD)
Duck Dynasty: Season 7 (Lionsgate, DVD)
Strange Magic (Touchstone, DVD, Digital, VOD)
Cymbeline (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD)
Lovesick (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Before I Disappear (IFC, DVD)
The Living (Monterey, DVD, Digital, VOD)
Girlhood (Strand, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Blue Room (IFC, DVD)
The Last Hijack (Kino Lorber, DVD)
A Year in Champagne (First Run, DVD)
Zombeavers (Freestyle, DVD)
Bordering on Bad Behavior (Inception, DVD)
Maya the Bee Movie (Shout! Factory Kids, Blu-ray 3D+2D, DVD)
My Dad’s a Soccer Mom (Alchemy, DVD)
The Vatican Exorcisms (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Roommate Wanted (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)