The Anderson Tapes

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
Action;
$24.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, Christopher Walken, Ralph Meeker, Val Avery, Garrett Morris, Judith Lowry, Margaret Hamilton, Dick Williams, Richard B. Schull, Stan Gottlieb.

Between ATMs, fast food drive-thrus, shopping malls, supermarkets, and the like, Americans are now said to be caught on camera an average of 70 times a day. Imagine how it must have felt in 1971 for professional safe-blower John “Duke” Anderson (Sean Connery) to greet the then-nascent technology after recently wrapping up a 10-year stint in the hoosegow. Sandwiched between two paragons of scrutinous cinematic surveillance — Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966) and Francis Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) — The Anderson Tapes has the feel of a made-for-TV crime flick in spite of director Sidney Lumet’s insistence on pushing the material in the direction of artsy fartsy earnestness.  

In a world of dog eat dog, Anderson confesses to wanting the first bite, but he’s so out of step with civilization that he doesn’t say “Cheese” until after the picture is snapped. Back on the streets, his goal is to spend an afternoon knocking off every unit in a small but elite New York apartment building. Why this block of flats? Not unlike the writers, Anderson doesn’t want to exert himself. The first place he lands outside of jail — the dwelling of his high-priced callgirl girlfriend Ingrid (Dyan Cannon) — is the first place he’s fixing to rob. Nary a shot goes by without some form of surveillance equipment in the frame: microphones strapped to a waiter’s garter belt or hidden in the fountain pen clipped to a nurse’s breast pocket. Reel-to-reel recording tape is constantly rolling while the doorman’s station of the plush complex comes equipped with more television monitors than a post-production facility. (Why would anyone choose to rob a building with this much built-in policing?) In that sense, the film is years ahead of its time. But rather than incorporating a barrage of peeping tom technology to underscore a thread of constant dread that comes with the ubiquitous, privacy-robbing remote cameras, Lumet uses the stealth equipment as decoration.

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The collapse of the studio system in the late ’60s ushered in the most flagrant decade of political incorrectness since Al Jolson died and went to heaven on a mule. Women and minorities were still being depicted as whores and second-class citizens, but not their swarthy male counterparts. Our first sighting of Anderson comes, not surprisingly, via a closed-circuit black-and-white Motorola. He’s the burglar comparing safe cracking to rape. In both cases he fell in love with his jobs and the sexual fulfillment that accompanied them. (His earliest gigs as a home-invader found him entering the cracked safes fully aroused.) Back in the day, material like this was played for laughs. But nothing was more flagrantly (or tastelessly) foisted on the audience than Martin Balsam’s stereotypical limp-wristed interior decorator, Haskins. One chuckles when Haskins’ female secretary feigns disappointment upon learning that swarthy Anderson’s inquiring about her boss leaves her out of the running. Haskins’ character development consisted of a string of “faggot” jokes that would choke Paul Lynde. It’s one thing for racist dialog to be a mitigating factor in a character’s shading. No one laughs when Socks (Val Avery) copped to not wanting to “work with spooks.” But listen to the audience howl when the doorman answers the phone and describes Haskins as a “fag” to his face.

The heist takes up the final third of the film, with Lumet kneecapping suspense at every turn with flash-forward, post-heist interviews with the victims. (The kid in the wheelchair with the ham radio as a plot device is the toughest roadblock to get past.) The location work is well worth the effort, as is a veritable Who’s Who of New York character actors in ’70s cinema. Comedian Alan King shows a serious side as the sentimental mafioso who underwrites Anderson’s endeavor. Garrett Morris is a cop assigned a makeshift SWAT team made up of beat cops. It was Christopher Walken’s first feature — he’s a jailbird who did time for drugs, not the “bang bang stuff” as Anderson put it — and Margaret Hamilton’s last. Octogenarian Judith Lowry (Husbands, Cold Turkey) was finally making a name for herself as a cantankerous character actress. Anthony Holland and Conrad Bain appeared as doctors while Sam Coppola (Tony Manero’s boss in Saturday Night Fever) pops up as a private dick. Richard B. Schull (Klute, Cockfighter) stops the show as Ingrid’s “owner,” Werner Gottlieb, a wealthy cuckolder who sets her up in a lifestyle she’s grown accustomed to and refuses to share her with another man. The title tapes aren’t a government issue, but the work of a P.I. hired by Gottlieb to spy on the couple. It’s the film’s acting centerpiece with cold-blooded Cannon as the spider woman looking to sell out any man who stands in her way of tax-exempt status. 

Bonus features include an audio commentary by respected film historian Glenn Kenny, and a couple of trailers.

Cult Actioner ‘McBain’ Due on Blu-ray July 11 From Synapse and MVD

The 1991 cult classic McBain will be released on Blu-ray July 11 from Synapse Films and MVD Entertainment Group.

The release features a new 5.1 Surround mix (the original 2.0 theatrical stereo mix is also included).
  
In the film, at the end of the Vietnam War, POW Robert McBain (Christopher Walken) is freed by a squad of Army Rangers led by Santos (Chick Vennera). In gratitude, McBain promises to help Santos whenever he’s in need. Santos takes out a $100 bill, tears it in two, gives half to McBain and says, “If the other half of this bill ever finds you, you can pay me back.” Almost 20 years later, Santos, back in his native Colombia, is killed while leading a fight against drug lords and corrupt politicians. Santos’ sister Christina (Maria Conchita Alonso) travels to America with the other half of the $100 bill in an attempt to enlist McBain’s help in overthrowing the Colombian regime. McBain brings together the former Rangers (Michael Ironside, Steve James, Thomas G. Waites, Jay Patterson) to help bring down the dictator and drug lords.    

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Special Features include audio commentary from director James Glickenhaus and film historian Chris Poggiali and the original theatrical trailer.   

1986 Sean Penn Thriller ‘At Close Range’ Due on Blu-ray Nov. 1 From MVD

The 1986 thriller At Close Range, starring Sean Penn and Christopher Walken, will be released on Blu-ray Disc Nov. 1 as part of the MVD Rewind Collection from MVD Entertainment Group.

In the film, a teenage farm boy looking for excitement finds himself on a collision course with his smooth-talking gang leader father in this tale based on the story of real-life killer Bruce Johnston.

Juvenile delinquent Brad Whitewood Jr. (Penn) knows about petty theft, but he wants big money — enough to blow the lid off his boring life, enough to get out of town and to find his old man (Walken). He wants to be like his dad, a big-time thief, who knows “the business.” Seductive and sinister, Brad’s father is full of toxic wisdom that makes his illicit life appear eerily sexy. But when Brad witnesses his father deliberately killing someone, he realizes he may not only be in over his head, he may also lose it for good.

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The film — which features the single “Live to Tell” by Madonna — also stars Mary Stuart Masterson, Crispin Glover, Tracey Walter, Kiefer Sutherland, David Strathairn, Stephen Geoffreys and Candy Clark.

At Close Range is written by Academy Award nominee Nicholas Kazan (Reversal of Fortune, Fallen, Bicentennial Man, Enough), who is also the son of legendary director Elia Kazan. It’s directed by James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross, Fear, After Dark, My Sweet, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed).

Drama Series ‘Severance’ to Premiere Feb. 18 on Apple TV+

Apple TV+ will premiere the new drama series “Severance” globally Feb. 18.

The first two episodes of the nine-episode season will debut Feb. 18 followed by weekly installments each Friday.

From director and executive producer Ben Stiller (Escape at Dannemora, Tropic Thunder) and creator Dan Erickson, “Severance” follows Mark Scout (Adam Scott), the leader of a team at Lumon Industries, whose employees have undergone a severance procedure, which surgically divides their memories between their work and personal lives. The daring experiment in “work-life balance” is called into question as Mark finds himself at the center of an unraveling mystery that will force him to confront the true nature of his work — and of himself.

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“Severance” reunites Emmy and DGA Award winner Stiller with Academy Award and Emmy Award winner Patricia Arquette (Escape at Dannemora, Boyhood), who stars alongside Scott (“Parks and Recreation,” Step Brothers), Emmy Award winner John Turturro (“The Plot Against America,” “The Night Of”), Britt Lower (“High Maintenance,” “Casual”), Zach Cherry (“You,” “Succession”), Dichen Lachman (Jurassic World: Dominion, “Altered Carbon”), Jen Tullock (Before You Know It, “Bless This Mess”), Tramell Tillman (“Hunters,” Dietland”), Michael Chernus (“Orange is the New Black,” “Patriot”) and Academy Award winner Christopher Walken.

 

‘The Dogs of War’ and ‘The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood’ Headed to Blu-ray Nov. 23 From Ronin Flix and MVD

Two 1980 titles, The Dogs of War and The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood, are being released on Blu-ray Nov. 23 from Ronin Flix and MVD Entertainment Group.

In the action adventure The Dogs of War, Christopher Walken (Pennies From Heaven, Heaven’s Gate, The Deer Hunter) is brutal mercenary Jamie Shannon (Walken), a cynical warrior-for-hire who feels truly alive only in the heat of battle. He takes the most challenging assignment of his career: to invade a corrupt African dictatorship and shift control to the “puppet” of a powerful British corporation. To prepare, Shannon trains and equips a squad of deadly mercenaries with the latest and most destructive tactics and military hardware. But as their explosive assault begins, Shannon finds himself embroiled in an internal conflict of his own: Will this be his greatest triumph, or has he sold his soul along with his battle expertise? Tom Berenger (Platoon, Last Rites, Major League), Paul Freeman (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Sender, The Final Option), Hugh Millais (Images, The Wicked Lady), JoBeth Williams (Poltergeist, Teachers, American Dreamers) and Colin Blakely (Equus, Nijinsky, The Big Sleep) co-star in the film directed by John Irvin (Hamburger Hill, Next of Kin, Raw Deal) and filmed by D.P. Jack Cardiff (The African Queen, Dark of the Sun, The Awakening). The special edition includes both the U.S. theatrical (104 minutes, rated ‘R’) and international (118 Minutes, not rated) cuts, plus a limited-edition slipover (while supplies last). Bonus features include interviews with co-stars Paul Freeman and Maggie Scott, co-writer George Malko, first assistant director Anthony Waye, production designer Peter Mullins, and costume designer Emma Porteous.

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The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood is the third and final film in the “Happy Hooker” sex comedy trilogy, a series loosely based on the memoirs of Xaviera Hollander, a prostitute from the Netherlands. It stars two time bond girl Martine Beswick (From Russia with Love, Thunderball), Adam West (TV’s “Batman”), Phil Silvers, Chris Lemmon and Richard Deacon (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”) with special guest appearances by Edie Adams and Army Archerd. In the film, when Xaviera (Beswick), now a best-selling author, has Tinseltown calling with a less-than-savory offer for her book, she flexes her independent spirit, deciding to film the movie herself. Bonus features include new on-camera interviews with stars Martine Beswick and Chris Lemmon.

Percy vs. Goliath

DVD REVIEW:

Paramount;
Drama;
$14.99 DVD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some thematic elements.
Stars Christopher Walken, Christina Ricci, Zach Braff, Luke Kirby, Adam Beach, Martin Donovan, Roberta Maxwell.

Themes of corporatism and environmental activism seep into the otherwise affable underdog legal drama Percy vs. Goliath, which tracks a Canadian farmer’s battle over seed rights with a multinational chemical conglomerate.

The story is drawn primarily from the case of Monsanto v. Schmeiser, a late-1990s/early 2000s legal dispute in which Percy Schmeiser (Christopher Walken) was sued by the Monsanto Company for inadvertently planting some of its genetically modified canola seeds on his family farm in Saskatchewan.

Monsanto might be best known as the corporation that sponsored a number of Tomorrowland attractions at Disneyland in the 1950s and 1960s (including the House of the Future) before developing Agent Orange for the U.S. military to unleash on Vietnam. In the 1980s the company turned to genetically engineering crops and experimenting with other GMOs.

Percy eschews GM seeds in favor of saving his own supply from the most robust crops from the most recent harvest. Monsanto, sending investigators onto Schmeiser’s land to test his crops, alleges he has been planting their patented seeds without a license. Percy contends the Monsanto seed must have blown onto his land from neighboring farms that use it, and that he repurposed it without realizing what it was.

The Schmeisers’ lawyer (Zach Braff) encourages a quick settlement to avoid a protracted and expensive legal fight. Percy, being too proud to submit, carries on thanks to the support of an environmental activist (Christina Ricci) whose organization wants to hamper the implementation of GMOs in agriculture.

From their perspective, Monsanto is attempting to squeeze out farmers who won’t do business with them by making it impossible to avoid their products. The Schmeiser case in particular involves a strain of canola seed engineered to resist a herbicide called Roundup, also produced by Monsanto. The innovation of the GMO is that a farmer could spray his fields with Roundup to kill weeds while leaving the crops unaffected.

That creates a catch-22 for farmers such as Schmeiser who don’t buy from Monsanto, as the only way to know they’re using Monsanto seeds is to spray the field with Roundup — so that any crops that survive would be owned by Monsanto, and rest would be dead, which doesn’t do the local farmer much good.

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Percy continues to get hammered in court on the basic legal premise that the seed is patented and he should be aware of what he’s planting. As a result, Percy’s reputation is damaged as the community begins to see him as a thief. But with the increased attention of his case bringing him support from other farmers who have had similar experiences with Monsanto, Schmeiser vows to continue the fight all the way to Canada’s supreme court, even if it bankrupts him and costs him the family farm.

The film is grounded by its solid performances and does a good job of presenting the stakes of the case and their significance, letting the political subtext speak for itself while it focuses on the personal story of Percy’s family and their allies. A lesser movie might have chosen to dive more into the debate and focus on Ricci’s activist character, whose base attempts to manipulate the Schmeisers into becoming the face of her cause are soft pedaled a bit because the film is sympathetic to the desired outcome.

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Walken ably carries the film as Percy, who is presented as a crusty and proud everyman who just wants the chance to earn his keep in peace — though the real Percy was much more politically inclined than his humble movie counterpart is made out to be.

Percy’s story was previously the subject of the 2009 documentary David versus Monsanto, a title that used the other half of the “David vs. Goliath” sobriquet.

Christopher Walken Drama ‘Percy vs. Goliath’ Due on DVD June 29

The drama Percy vs. Goliath will come out on DVD June 29 from Paramount Home Entertainment and Saban Films.

It is already available in select theaters, for digital purchase and on demand.

Christopher Walken, Zach Braff and Christina Ricci star in this true story of a small-town farmer taking on one of the largest agricultural and food manufacturing corporations. Percy Schmeiser (Walken), a third-generation farmer, is sued by a corporate giant for allegedly using their patented seeds. With little resources to fight the giant legal battle, Percy joins forces with up-and-coming attorney Jackson Weaver (Braff) and environmental activist Rebecca Salcau (Ricci) to fight one of the most monumental cases all the way up to the Supreme Court.

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Emily Blunt Romance ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ Available on DVD and Digital Feb. 2

The Emily Blunt romance Wild Mountain Thyme will come out on DVD and digital Feb. 2 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

From John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck), the film follows headstrong farmer Rosemary Muldoon (Blunt), who has her heart set on winning her neighbor Anthony Reilly’s love. The problem is Anthony (Jamie Dornan) seems to have inherited a family curse and remains oblivious to his beautiful admirer.

Stung by his father Tony Reilly’s (Christopher Walken) plans to sell the family farm to his American nephew (Jon Hamm), Anthony is jolted into pursuing his dreams in this comedic romantic tale.

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The War With Grandpa

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Comedy;
Box Office $18.39 million;
$22.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for rude humor, language, and some thematic elements.
Stars Robert De Niro, Oakes Fegley, Uma Thurman, Rob Riggle, Laura Marano, Poppy Gagnon, Cheech Marin, Christopher Walken, Jane Seymour.

Based on the children’s novel of the same name by Robert Kimmel Smith, The War With Grandpa is an odd little comedy that seems more mean-spirited than it turns out to be.

Robert De Niro stars as Ed, who moves in with his daughter (Uma Thurman) after an accident. When he’s given the room of his grandson, Peter (Oakes Fegley), this upsets the young lad. And since he’s just learning about the U.S. Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence in school, he sends a note to grandpa declaring war unless his room is returned.

Grandpa has a few chuckles with his pals over the note, but doesn’t take it too seriously, prompting Peter to escalate things to a full-on prank war.

Ed, understanding his grandson’s frustration but egged on by his friends, pulls Peter aside and they work out a series of rules for when and where they can prank each other — the most important one is not letting Peter’s parents or other siblings find out about it — so it never gets beyond harmless fun.

That is, until Peter’s younger sister has a Christmas-themed birthday party that gives the filmmakers all sorts of excuses for mayhem.

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 The War With Grandpa is filled with occasional laughs and should serve as a nice diversion for families looking to pass the time. In addition to the pretty standard back-and-forth prank format, the film also heavily relies on a “Family Guy”-style flashback structure — in which a character brings up something that happened, prompting the film to cut to a scene of the humorous incident occurring.

There’s also some clever stuff about the generational technology gap, as grandpa can’t figure out how phones and automated checkout machines work, while the Jenny the youngest granddaughter keeps asking if Ed wants to watch a movie on the tablet she’s always toting around.

The Blu-ray presentation doesn’t include any extras.

The Jesus Rolls

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 5/5/20;
Screen Media;
Comedy;
Box Office $0.02 million;
$24.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for strong sexual content, language throughout and brief nudity.
Stars John Turturro, Bobby Cannavale, Audrey Tautou, Christopher Walken, Jon Hamm, Pete Davidson, Susan Sarandon, J. B. Smoove, Gloria Reuben.

The biggest source of audience interest in The Jesus Rolls will likely center on the return of John Turturro to the role of Jesus Quintana, the trash talking bowler he played in 1998’s The Big Lebowski.

Quintana was one of the more memorable supporting characters of Big Lebowski despite appearing in just two scenes with less than four minutes of total screen time. However, Turturro was interested in revisiting the character, and received special permission from the Coen Brothers to make him the central character of his own movie.

While Quintana’s presence as the focus of this new film might make it a loose spinoff and spiritual sequel to The Big Lebowski, once the curiosity factor wears off what’s left is a rather bland attempt to spread the character’s quirky appeal throughout a feature-length story that comes up just shy of 90 minutes.

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Written and directed by Turturro, The Jesus Rolls is essentially a remake of the 1974 French farce Going Places, which itself was based on the novel Les Valseuses, the title coming from a slang term for male genitals.

Upon being released from prison and told that another arrest will likely get him locked up for life, Quintana proceeds to do little else but commit petty crimes in support of a bohemian lifestyle. Hooking up with his best friend Petey (Bobby Cannavale), the pair steal a vintage sports car belonging to a tough-talking hairdresser (Jon Hamm) and make off with one of his stylists (Audrey Tautou), who confesses that in her promiscuous adventures she has never had an orgasm. In search of someone with more potential appreciation for their skills in the arts of pleasure, Jesus and Petey decide to pick up a random woman (Susan Sarandon) just being released from prison. This sets them down a path of establishing their own unconventional family unit to enable their carefree ways.

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The application of an existing story framework is certainly not out of bounds for a follow-up to Big Lebowski, which itself borrowed the structure of a Raymond Chandler crime novel.

The Jesus Rolls manages to emulate the stream of consciousness tone of Big Lebowski, and the two films are further connected through the heavy use of Gipsy Kings music (stemming from the fact that Quintana was originally introduced while a Gipsy Kings cover of “Hotel California” was playing). Turturro also provides the requisite fan service of reprising a few of Quintana’s notable lines from Big Lebowski, expands on a few details revealed about the character in his first appearance, and even works in one scene of him going bowling.

Otherwise, though, Turturro could be playing anybody, and the film completely stands on its own.

This latter point may explain why Turturro and Cannavale never directly mention The Big Lebowski in their commentary track for the film (the Blu-ray’s only bonus feature). Turturro also never discusses what motivated him to play Quintana in particular in his version of Going Places, though much of the commentary is devoted to his admiration for the French source material, and comparing the elements of them he included. The pair also discuss the process of low-budget indie filmmaking, and enjoy the acting touches provided by their fellow castmates.

They seem more amused by the material than many viewers might be, but the film does manage to find a few honest laughs in its own right.

All in all, some fun performances, fabulous music and Turturro’s commitment to one of his signature characters offer enough of a reason to at least check it out, especially for Big Lebowski fans.