Open and close your memories of the 90s with two genre gems on Blu-ray.
There’s no real connection between Stephen Frears’ The Grifters (1990) and David Cronenberg’s Existenz (1999), but their placement at the beginning and end of the 1990s make for an interesting pairing to lead off 101 Films’ new Black Label Blu-ray line.
Their simple mantra boils down to “seeking out cult and catalog films and giving them the best releases possible,” and judging by their first two releases we’re excited to see where they go next. The first 3000 copies of each title include a slipcases and booklet, but even if you miss the cutoff the discs themselves feature new supplements produced just for these releases.
Keep reading for a look at the new UK-only Blu-ray releases of The Grifters and Existenz.
The Grifters (1990)
Lily (Anjelica Huston) has been a con artist longer than she hasn’t, but for all her troubles she’s still far from retirement. Her cruel and crooked boss makes sure of that. She makes a rare visit to see her son Roy (John Cusack) and urge him to quit the scam artist game, but he’s convinced he has what it takes. His girlfriend Myra (Annette Bening) agrees and tries to pull him into a big con of her own, but it causes a fight which in turn leads to Myra making her own plan with rough consequences for all involved.
Jim Thompson’s grim noir gets an adaptation courtesy of writer Donald E. Westlake (Payback) and director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity), and the result is an energetic tragedy about terrible people behaving badly. None of these people are all that nice or likable, but both the writing and the performances keep viewers engaged all the same as we watch them compete in a race to the bottom. It’s no accident that the last of the three standing ends the film dressed in red and descending in an elevator as if into hell itself.
Cusack gives Roy a softness that perfectly belies just how much of a foreigner he is in this world, and while his actions are his own he’s the one who comes closest to earning our concern. Huston walks a fine line between hardhearted grifter and a woman, a mother, who aches over her own choices. It’s a tough tightrope, but Huston nails it. Bening, meanwhile, is a bundle of energy and vitality concealing the survivor underneath. All three leads are tremendous, and they’re joined by a solid roster of supporting players in Pat Hingle, Stephen Tobolowsky, J.T. Walsh, and others.
The new Black Label release isn’t the film’s debut on Blu-ray, but it is by all accounts a far better picture than the one released in 2009 by Optimum Home Entertainment (also a UK release). Extras are slight with only one, but it’s a doozy leaving little room to complain.
- *NEW* Seduction, Betrayal, Murder: The Making of The Grifters [1:11:35] — A feature length documentary exploring the film’s production by way of new interviews with Stephen Frears, cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, editor Mick Audsley, and others
The Grifters is new to Blu-ray in the UK
Allegra (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a world-renowned video game creator, but her latest digital creation has earned her enemies willing to kill for their beliefs. When an assassination attempt goes sideways she’s forced to run for her life alongside a newbie (Jude Law) to the world of virtual reality, and together they search for answers both in reality and in the game itself.
David Cronenberg’s films are always worth at least a single watch as he’s a meticulous craftsman whose films typically feature an abundance of ideas and engaging visuals. His spin on VR had the misfortune of releasing the same year as The Matrix, but even without the competition it was never really destined for anything more than cult status. It’s a small thriller exploring our obsessive need for alternate realities, but it stays lively due to the performances, story twists, and some funky visuals.
It shouldn’t surprise you that the visuals in question are of the fleshy variety as Cronenberg riffs on his own Videodrome here in multiple ways. The videogame system connects directly into a player’s body via an organic umbilical cord, guns are skeletal in design and shoot human teeth, and there are also a handful of these little guys pictured above. The shifting narrative ends up landing the last beats, but it’s these biological interfaces that you’ll remember long after the credits roll.
This was a first-time watch for me, and Black Label’s new Blu-ray looks good to my eyes without the benefit of having seen any prior release. The extras are copious including a new interview with Christopher Eccleston and two new commentary tracks (in addition to an older one with Cronenberg himself.
- *NEW* The Leader: An Interview with Christopher Eccleston [16:01]
- Making-of Documentary [53:48]
- Promo featurette [10:37]
- Special Effects Featurette [3:47]
- Jude Law [14:38]
- Jennifer Jason Leigh [1:17]
- Willem Dafoe [6:56]
- Jim Isaac [27:40]
- David Cronenberg [4:00]
Existenz is new to Blu-ray in the UK
This is a seemingly odd pairing with which to launch a new Blu-ray label as neither film is a flat-out masterpiece, and neither is particularly difficult to find. Whatever the reasoning, 101 Films’ new Black Label line is off to a solid start all the same as the two films are well produced and packaged. Take note, they’re region B-locked releases meaning U.S. readers will need an all-region player.