‘The Long Goodbye,’ ‘The Conformist’ and ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ Are New to Blu-ray and Money Well Spent
Welcome back to This Week In Discs! We were off on holiday break last week, so this post includes releases from 11/25 and 12/2.
If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon.
The Long Goodbye
Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) awakens to a world of trouble when his best friend is accused of murder before committing suicide across the border in Mexico. Now cops and thugs alike are giving Marlowe a hard time as he investigates what the hell is going on around him, but the more he digs the more twisted the lies become. A gangster with a violent streak (and a bodyguard played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) insists that Marlowe owes him money, and a wealthy Malibu couple mixes in some insanity and infidelity. It’s not all bad though as the women who live next door have recently discovered the joys of nude yoga.
Robert Altman’s take on Raymond Chandler’s infamous noir creation updates several elements, and while it’s far from typical noir it plays with the conventions while honoring them. Gould is fantastic as a Marlowe removed from his chronological element, and the ending is a punch that may feel tonally misplaced on the surface but is actually the darkness the entire film is building towards. Not that it’s a dark film… there are laughs aplenty here, and Altman’s constantly moving camera keeps viewers an active participant in the story. Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray features a few featurettes, but the real joy is finally having the film in gorgeous HD.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, trailer]
Bernardo Bertolucci’s breakthrough film remains one of the Italian auteur’s most challenging and richest works. Set during Italy’s fascist period in the 1930s, the film follows the story of robotic, state-funded hit-man named Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintignant) as he is tasked to assassinate a former teacher and political dissident. Elegantly moving between Marcello’s past and present, The Conformist paints a layered picture of a complex and confused soul who drifted into the life of a functionary for an all-controlling government.
The film’s rigidly composed cinematography combined with Trintignant’s brilliantly stoic performance make the film a masterclass in portraying modern existentialism slyly posing as a thriller. Marcello is perhaps one of cinema history’s least heroic but enduringly fascinating protagonists ‐ a man who has fashioned himself into an image of who he thinks others would like him to be. The Conformist is brilliantly realized in Raro Video’s transfer of a new HD restoration supervised by the film’s cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro. ‐ Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: In the Shade of the Conformist, an hour-long making-of doc; original and re-release trailers; new subtitled; illustrated booklet]
Les Blank: Always for Pleasure (Criterion)
When documentarian Les Blank passed away last year, he left behind an unmatched filmography that dove deep into the various traditions of American life, most often surrounding practices of music. Criterion’s box set, “Les Blank: Always for Pleasure,” brings together a vast selection of the filmmaker’s (non-Herzog-related) work, focusing principally on his portraits of diverse strains of Americana between fourteen feature films and five shorts.
While the set sports numerous long-unavailable or obscure gems like The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins and Gap-Toothed Women, the centerpieces of this set are two features that display both Blank’s close interests in his subject and his flare for the idiosyncratic: his New Orleans film Always for Pleasure and his enthralling film about garlic, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers. The set is no doubt designed for the dedicated Blank devotee or anyone who really wants to dive deep into his work, as none of these titles are available separately. But the result is something special ‐ Blanks’s individual films gave a rich slice of Americana, but this box set is a veritable Thanksgiving feast. ‐ Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Excrept from a documentary about Blank; new interviews with Blank’s family and his collaborators, including Werner Herzog; outtakes from Lightnin’ Hopkins, illustrated booklet with an essay]
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
An untimely death leaves an opening in the U.S. Senate, and a handful of power-players set a plan in motion to plug the hole with a wet behind the ears yokel until a specific politician can be moved into place. Jeff Smith (James Stewart) is that idealistic newcomer, but his fiery charge to do great things for the people hits a wall when he discovers the reality that is Washington politics.
Frank Capra’s classic film gets a beautiful 75th anniversary release loaded with special features, a new remastering in 4K, and the hardcover booklet also includes an essay and several behind-the-scenes photos. The film itself is a gem that delivers laughs alongside a stirring call to the power of our democracy, and while it may feel old-fashioned at times last year’s attempted filibuster by Wendy Davis in Texas shows the ideas and principles on display are still as relevant as ever.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes]
Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection
An older man develops an unhealthy fixation on a teenage girl in Lolita. A rogue general sends the world to the brink of war and only Peter Sellers can stop it in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. A mysterious obelisk triggers mankind’s rise on Earth but returns again thousands of years later in 2001: A Space Odyssey. An anarchic youth receives a special treatment meant to make him fit for society in A Clockwork Orange. An Irish thug aims to become an aristocrat in Barry Lyndon. A crazy man grows crazier in The Shining. American soldiers experience the waking nightmare of Vietnam in Full Metal Jacket. “Fidelio” enters your lexicon in Eyes Wide Shut.
Warner Bros. has put together an epic and beautifully crafted box set with all of the above films on individual Blu-rays and an array of special features. Also included are a handful of documentaries including two brand new ones featuring interviews with those who knew, worked with and loved Kubrick. The true value of the set however is in the films themselves, and while tastes vary the varied and eclectic nature of Kubrick’s oeuvre means you’re sure to love something here. For me the winners are Lolita, Dr. Strangelove and Eyes Wide Shut.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, featurettes, interviews, trailers]
Stretch (Patrick Wilson) is an aspiring actor living the L.A. dream of debt, rejection and working as a limo driver, but the glamorous life he’s built around himself threatens to come crashing down when he’s given til midnight to pay off his gambling misfortune. Stuck working an unpromising shift he starts poaching a competitor’s clients and soon finds himself caught up in a wacky adventure involving cops, criminals and Jessica Alba.
Writer/director Joe Carnahan’s latest may have been dumped unceremoniously onto VOD, but don’t take that as evidence of a lack of quality. This is a fun and frequently ridiculous movie ‐ David Hasselhoff plays himself ‐ that often feels like After Hours’ younger, more reckless and immature cousin. Wilson is fantastic, but one of the film’s biggest highlights is Chris Pine’s very funny supporting turn as a crazy man. There’s nothing deep going on here on its way to a somewhat obvious destination, but it’s a damn fun ride getting there.
[DVD extras: None]
Tales from the Crypt / Vault of Horror
Five unwitting tourists meet on a visit to a mysterious catacomb, but they soon realize they’re not sure why or how they got there. Things get weirder when a robed man appears claiming to tell each of their fates. Why do each of them appear headed for a violent demise, and is there any way out of the crypt? The sequel follows five new strangers who depart an elevator ride into a subterranean vault where they await rescue while sharing dark stories with each other. But are they just stories?
Scream Factory brings these two classic horror anthologies from Britain onto Blu-ray with gorgeous transfers that truly impress. The pictures are so sharp and clear you’d be forgiven for thinking none of the actors you’re seeing have already died of old age. The movies themselves, and the stories within, vary of course as anthology films are prone to do, but there are enough ghoulish delights and EC Comics-inspired black humor to make them enjoyably murderous romps.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Trailers, alternate opening for Vault of Horror]
As Above So Below
An archaeologist, a documentary filmmaker, a wandering clock mechanic who reads Aramaic and a trio of local urban spelunkers descend into the world’s largest cemetery in search of an archaic relic capable of transmuting metals into gold and granting immortality. But what goes down doesn’t always come back up again. This is ultimately a bit lower than a middle-of-the-road horror pic with its biggest issues being an unfocused script and a severe lack of scares. On the bright side though at least it’s more watchable than ninety percent of found footage films thanks to a capable cast and a successfully claustrophobic visual appeal.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Robin Wright (Robin Wright) is an aging actress who accepts one last offer guaranteed to keep her viable as a performer for years to come. The catch is that she’ll be digitally captured after signing over the rights to her likeness and that newly animated “her” will be used as the studio sees fit going forward. Part live action, part wildly animated, this very personal look into an actress’ life has a lot to say on the future of technology and its place in our entertainment. The problem though is that the film’s biggest strength is its first half thanks largely to Wright’s performance. Once things devolve into animation it becomes visually inventive but far less affecting.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interview, booklet]
The Expendables 3
Barney (Sylvester Stallone) finds himself at odds with his teammates when a decision of his backfires, so he sets out with a new team to make up for his mistake. But that doesn’t go well either and soon the old folks are together again for an epic rescue mission. The cast here is a ton of fun ‐ Jason Statham! Wesley Snipes! Jet Li! Antonio Banderas! Dolph Lundgren! Terry Crews! Harrison Ford! Arnold Schwarzenegger! ‐ but the problem is once again a lack of exciting or worthwhile action. Far too much of it is CGI-based which is neither exciting nor impressive. Instead the highlight becomes a villainous turn by Mel Gibson.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel, extended scene]
Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) lives in a bland, highly organized future where conformity is rule one, but when he’s designated as society’s next “Giver” he discovers there’s more to life than neutral colors. He attempts to enlighten others, but the powers that be squelch him at every turn forcing him to attempt an unlikely escape. I can’t speak to Lois Lowry’s novel, but this is a pretty bad movie in almost every way with the biggest issue being its incredibly poor world-building. None of it makes even the slightest bit of sense up to and including the ending. The whole thing makes Divergent look like a brilliantly-crafted universe by comparison.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, making of, extended scene, press conference]
Her name is Sawa (India Eisley), and after blowing out the back of the guy’s head with an exploding bullet she continues on her way up the food chain of evil deeds looking for the man at the top, the man responsible for her parents’ murder, the man she is intent on killing. Along for the ride are her father’s ex-partner (Samuel L. Jackson) and a homeless teen who taught himself parkour. This anime adaptation is a mild diversion with a level of entertainment that will depend on the viewer’s interests. Want some dumb, stylized action? Check it out. Prefer some smarts and an actually compelling style? You may want to re-watch The Professional or Kick-Ass.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
Martial Arts Double Feature: Kung Fu Girl / Whiplash
Pei-Pei Cheng stars in a pair of early ’70s fight flicks from Hong Kong where she plays initially unassuming young women forced to kick ass against villains and government officials alike. Neither film is necessarily a classic, but they’re both solid examples of the genre, and it’s always great seeing female fighters in a traditionally male-dominated industry. The disc is devoid of special features, but Shout! Factory earns credit for featuring a much longer cut of the first film than has been released in the U.S. previously.
[DVD extras: None]
Nymphomaniac: Volume I and Volume II
Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) has seen better days, and over the next four-plus hours she regales a man (Stellan Skarsgard) who rescues her in an alleyway with the story of her life. It consists mostly of sex and very poor decision-making. Lars von Trier’s two-part narrative on a life spent boning has its fans, but the damn thing is such a slog, and for a film overflowing with sex it’s never the least bit sexy either. Worse, the entire story leads to an ending that fails on every level.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, trailers]
Jonathan is agoraphobic and has been since a tragic car accident left him injured and a widow. Trapped in his home for over a year while friends and therapists visit in attempts to help, he soon starts seeing and hearing nightmarish images and sounds. Is he going mad, or has something in the house awakened? That’s a rhetorical question as the answer is something you won’t really be concerned about. The film drags, but that slow pacing is never rewarded, and the visions fail to create terror or scares of any kind.
[DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, art]
Speak No Evil
A single mother discovers her young daughter missing one night, but the search for her child is complicated when every other child in town also disappears. Panic ensues, but confused relief settles over the town when the kids all come walking out of the hills. Of course things go south again once the kids start killing the townspeople. There are definite budget-related issues with the film’s execution, but the ideas at play here and the fact that no one is safe including the children make for a fresher horror film that direct-to-DVD endeavors usually deliver.
[DVD extras: Trailer]
Wallace (Danielle Radcliffe) is still recovering from a painful breakup, but he sees a light at the end of the tunnel when he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan). That dream is shattered later that night when he discovers she already has a boyfriend, but the two decide to just be friends. That works out fine, until it doesn’t. This is a delightfully unassuming little rom-com that delivers a smart and funny take on the When Harry Met Sally formula. The pair are honest, awkward and well-matched resulting in a sweet film.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
Apaches, L’Avventura (Criterion), Cantinflas, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Drunk History: Seasons 1 & 2, The Emerald Forest, Field of Lost Shoes, Gutshot Straight, Hickey & Boggs, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Into the Woods: Original Broadway Production, Jingle All the Way 2, Justified: The Complete Fifth Season, A Life in Dirty Movies, Lines of Wellington, Mercy, A Merry Friggin Christmas, Mockingbird, The November Man, The Offence, The Package, The Quatermass Experiment, Samurai Cop, Shock Waves, The Simpsons: The Seventeenth Season, Star Trek: The Next Generation ‐ Season Seven, The Strain: The Complete First Season, Thieves Like Us, To Kill a Man, Tootsie (Criterion), Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas, When Calls the Heart: Television Movie Collection, Witness to Murder