The timing wasn’t planned but it is fortuitous. The Fortune (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), a screwball comedy directed by Mike Nichols, debuts on Blu-ray a month after Nichols passed away. The 1975 production is set in the 1920s and stars Warren Beatty as a con man trying to get his hands on the fortune of a madcap heiress (a bubbly Stockard Channing in her first major film role) and Jack Nicholson as his dim-witted stooge who slowly figures out he’s really a partner in crime. Beatty plays it like a second-rate con man’s idea of what a cool customer acts like and Nicholson is a greedy, lazy idiot with a maniacal grin who thinks he’s clever but panics at every disaster, and truly every attempt to knock her off is a disaster.
The film was major flop, quite a surprise given the talent at work here, including screenwriter Carole Eastman (under the psuednym Adrian Joyce, which she also used on The Shooting) and production designer Richard Sylbert, who gives the west coast settings a low-rent, sun-baked handsomeness. Maybe it was the odd sensibility and collision of old Hollywood screwball and contemporary sensibilities; the jazz age was all the rage apparently after the successes of Bonnie and Clyde (with Warren Beatty), Chinatown (with Jack Nicholson) and The Sting. This isn’t really a black comedy, as Channing’s dizzy dame seems all too willing to fall into every scheme and the not-so-wise guyes are too incompetent to pull any of them off, and the timing doesn’t match the screwball situations, though all three are game to play their parts with all the screwy idiosyncrasies and big character flourishes of thirties movie stars and that is a pleasure to see.
The film has never been on DVD in the U.S. and it makes its disc debut on this Blu-ray-only release. It’s a great looking film, with cinematography by John Alonzo who even makes the California hills look like they cam from another era, and the disc preserves the period colors and tone of the film along with the crisp image. It includes Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score and an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.
Kinoshita and World War II (Eclipse, DVD) arrived just as I was ready to leave for Christmas so I had no chance to do more than just sample the movies. This box set, from Criterion’s no-frills Eclipse line, collects five early features from director Keisuke Kinoshita, who made 50 films in his 50-year career, including Twenty-Four Eyes (1954) and the original The Ballad of Narayama (1958), both of which Criterion has released on disc. This set begins with his directorial debut Port of Flowers (1943), a con-artist comedy made during the war, and three subsequent films all made under the strictures of war-time policy: The Living Magoroku (1943), Jubilation Street (1944), and Army (1944), the latter starring Ozu favorite Chishu Ryu. After the propaganda and patriotic messages of the war films, he was free to criticize the culture of Japanese imperialism in Morning for the Osone Family (1946). I hope to spend time with these films over the holidays, but frankly I’ll be largely unplugged for the next week so any full review will have to wait until 2015. I look forward to it.
Japanese with English subtitles. Each film is in its own slimline case with an essay by house writer Michael Koresky.
Dominion: Season One (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD), another new apocalyptic vision from SyFy, is essentially a spin-off of the 2010 feature Legion, set about 20 years after Gabriel leads a war on humanity and Archangel Michael turns his back on heaven to protect humanity and The Chosen One destined to save them. He’s now grown into Alex Lannen (Christopher Egan), an earnest soldier in Vega, the future incarnation of Las Vegas as a walled city under military command and control and a ruling elite vying for power in a decidedly undemocratic system. There’s all sorts of complicated politics and various factions and interest groups, with Michael (Tom Wisdom) serving as something between advisor and deity and Gabriel (Carl Beukes) preparing for another war with his army of lesser angels (who have all taken over human bodies) looking more like a band of demons on earth (complete with black wings for the angels—color coding is everything), but otherwise this is all familiar territory with only the specifics changed. Alex is in love with the daughter of the city ruler but she’s betrothed to the son of the city’s most powerful man, and of course everyone is driven by their own interests and alliances. And hey, who would have suspected that angels keep secrets? There’s nothing religious here apart from the mythology of angels as the ancient race of God’s warriors. Egan is fine as the reluctant Chosen One and TV vets Anthony Head (Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Alan Dale (Lost and Once Upon a Time) are the two patriarchs competing for power but the rest of the cast feels like they’re recycled versions of other actors playing recycled incarnations of other characters.
Eight episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a bonus Ultraviolet digital copy of the season. The Blu-ray features an extended version of the season finale and an HD version of the digital copy.
Coming on December 30:
Banshee: The Complete Second Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD) is the first Cinemax original series to really work. It’s pure pulp, a small town crime story with a career criminal posing as a sheriff while continuing his career as a thief. He just sets limits: no jobs in his town. With no real knowledge of the law or proper procedure, he turns to his other skills to keep the peace and solve crimes. It makes for a very entertaining show, with a heist or robbery in most every episode, dynamic and gritty action scenes with visceral and at times gruesome violence, and plenty of nudity and sex: all those exploitation elements that the movies have ceded to pay cable TV.
The second season opens in the aftermath of the bloody shoot-out with the Ukrainian gang that Sheriff Hood (Antony Starr) and his former lover and partner-in-crime (Ivana Milicevic) ripped off a decade ago, with Hood off the hook and back in command as his suspicious and resentful deputy (Matt Servitto) takes the blame. Along with the heists, the investigations, and the hunt for the Ukrainian ganglord who somehow escaped death, this season brings in the son of the man that Hood is impersonating and sets Hood against the town’s criminal godfather Kai (Ulrich Thomsen), a thoroughly ruthless man who was raised Amish but shunned by his community. There’s a struggle for power on the local reservation and the education of Kai’s niece (Lili Simmons), who he’s adopted into his crime empire after she is banished from the Amish community. Her evolution is fascinating, watching her uncle wield power and control and trying to apply the same in her own dealings.
There is one standout episode that makes the most of the contradictions of the series: “The Warrior Class,” which begins with the murder of a young Kinaho girl and the disappearance of an Amish boy and sets the two communities against each other as Hood stirs things up even more with his ill-advised invasion of the reservation to question a suspect. This is the series at its best, using a splashy murder to reveal the tensions and resentments in the community and bring antagonists together for a common mission, and it features two of the most riveting fight scenes of the series.
Ten episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on most episodes, deleted scenes, short prequel videos of the characters, and behind-the-scenes featurettes on select episodes. The Blu-ray edition features Twitter commentary from the cast and crew during the season premiere and finale, an interactive “Inside the Title Sequence” look at the differences in the title sequences of the different episodes, and a bonus Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the season
Also new and notable:
Pride (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD), inspired by the true story of gay activists who supported miners in their long strike of 1984 in Great Britain, stars Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton.
Reese Witherspoon and Corey Stoll star in The Good Lie (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD), a drama about the orphans who fled the war in Sudan in 19833 and the humanitarian effort to bring thousands of survivors to the U.S.
The Trip to Italy (IFC, DVD, Blu-ray), starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, is a sequel to their 2010 comedy The Trip, and Juliette Binoche is a world-traveling war photographer in 1,000 Times Good Night (Film Movement, DVD).
Olive releases single Blu-ray editions for seven films that were previously available in box sets.
From the Film Noir Collection released in 2012 are stand-outs Rope of Sand (Olive, Blu-ray), a desert noir in the cutthroat diamond trade of North Africa starring Burt Lancaster, and Dark City (Olive, Blu-ray), the Hollywood debut of Charlton Heston, who plays a hard-hearted veteran turned gambler who is hunted by a psychotic killer. Both are directed by William Dieterle. Also out in singles are Appointment with Danger (Olive, Blu-ray) with Alan Ladd and Union Station (Olive, Blu-ray) with William Holden.
Three Otto Preminger films—Hurry Sundown (Olive, Blu-ray) from 1967, Skidoo (Olive, Blu-ray) from 1968, and Such Good Friends (Olive, Blu-ray) from 1971—were also released on a Blu-ray triple feature in 2012. And I know there are people who simply must have the gonzo counterculture satire Skidoo, a nearly unclassifiable comedy of career criminals and fun-loving hippies colliding in the chaos of flower power, slapstick, and LSD-fueled psychedelia.
Intruders (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD), a supernatural series made by BBC and shown in the US on BBC America, stars John Simm, Mira Sorvino, and James Frain in a story of a secret society that lives forever by inhabiting the bodies of the living. It never get passed its initial eight-episode season. The disc editions include a featurette.
The Equalizer (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), a big screen remake of the eighties crime TV series in name only, stars Denzel Washington as a retired special agent who works as a humble clerk in a home improvement warehouse store and secretly moonlights as an urban crusader helping friends and neighbors. It’s directed by Antoine Fucqua, who directed Washington in Training Day, and co-stars Chloë Grace Moretz and Marton Csokas.
Elsa & Fred (Millennium, Blu-ray, DVD) is a senior citizen romantic comedy with Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer and Tusk (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD) is an offbeat horror movie from Kevin Smith starring Justin Long.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
The Boxtrolls (Universal, Digital HD), the funky stop-motion fantasy from the creators of Coraline, is available for digital purchase weeks before it comes out on disc.
Available on VOD before disc is Left Behind, the second screen adaptation of the best-welling thriller and the latest nail in the coffin of Nicolas Cage’s career; this film opened to scathing reviews. Coming to VOD before theaters is the comedy Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife with Patrick Wilson and Scott Foley.
Already on disc but new to VOD: The Maze Runner with Dylan O’Brien and Calvary with Brendan Gleeson and Chris O’Dowd.
Fury (Sony, Digital HD), the World War II drama starring Brad Pitt as the commander of an American tank crew rolling across Germany, will be available as a digital purchase weeks before disc.
TV on disc:
Continuum: Season Three (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Shameless: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
Richard Pryor: Icon (PBS, DVD)
Shameless: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
Two-Bit Waltz (Monterey, DVD, Digital, VOD)
Traffickers (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
7 Assassins (Lionsgate, DVD)
Reach Me (Millennium, Blu-ray, DVD)
Last Weekend (IFC, DVD)
Kelly & Cal (IFC, DVD)
The Brittany Murphy Story (Lionsgate, DVD)
APP (RAM Releasing, DVD)
One Shot (XLrator, DVD, VOD)