The Innocent

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 10/17/23;
Criterion;
Drama;
Box Office $34,822;
$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Louis Garrel, Roschdy Zem, Noémie Merlant, Anouk Grinberg, Jean-Claude Pautot.

Louis Garrel was born with filmmaking in his blood. Grandpa Maurice Garrel was a prolific stage and screen actor who cut his teeth behind the footlights before making the move to cinema, where he racked up 147 credits to his name. His mother, Brigitte Sy, was an actress and director, but it was dad, writer, editor, and director Philippe Garrel who gave 5-year-old Louis his first shot in front the camera. The Innocent is Louis’ fourth feature as a director. With the exception of two of Louis’ films as an actor (The Dreamers, Rifkin’s Festival), The Innocent is my first introduction to the Garrels, and while it’s not wise to judge a film by its genealogy, The Innocent left me lacking the curiosity needed to explore more titles hanging from the family tree.

Abel’s (Garrel) initial fears over his mother Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg) marrying convict Michel (Roschdy Zem) are allayed when his stepdad presents him with a quick, but hopelessly illegal, manner in which to pick up a stack of spending money. Sounds good, but much of the blame for my lack of enthusiasm over the storytelling can be found in the “Meet the Filmmakers” interview contained in the special features. A 17-minute talk with the younger Garrell confirms many apprehensions.

It was during an opening night performance of Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia that I learned an essential lesson in cinematic appreciation. A gentleman seated in the row behind was taken aback by one of the cars in the picture. How did I know the auto was the exact same make and model as one owned by his uncle? Because the nitz made sure to remind his cohort every time the car appeared in frame. I was 18 the night the film debuted and already aware that only imbeciles, weaned on television, carry on running conversations at the movies. That lesson was first instilled when mom turned and shushed the couple on the aisle who couldn’t keep from yakking during a matinee performance of Help! It was the chatterbox at Alfredo Garcia who first planted the seed that the least important part of appreciating a movie was personal identification and that anyone who goes to a movie simply to experience life as they know it would best be served standing before a mirror.

One can only wish that Garrel had a similar experience. “Up until the age of 25,” he confessed, “if the movie was not autobiographical, I was not interested.” By his own admission, Garrel devoted many years as an actor to playing himself. What’s changed? As a director, he had the good sense to hire a vigilant cinematographer (Julien Poupard). As an actor, his performance packs as much tang as a bowl of cottage cheese. Screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, That Obscure Object of Desire) was his mentor, but Garrel is a safe distance from Luis Buñuel. Don’t you hate when a character riffles through a drawer in search of a pencil only to coincidentally stumble across the murder weapon? Why did Abel put on Michel’s jacket if for no other reason than to establish a gun planted in his breast pocket? For that matter, why would an experienced criminal attending a party leave a gun in his pocket unattended to begin with?

According to Garrel, a film must be surprising even if its execution defies logic. Everything presented toward the beginning of the picture — from the recording device in a dog collar and the gun tucked in Michel’s leather coat to a prison acting class — amounts to little more than two-reels of clumsy, wall-to-wall foreshadowing waiting to mirror and inform the final third of the film. The pacing and structure skip around like a tennis ball in the spin cycle. Abel, a tour guide at an oceanarium, gets his co-worker and semi love interest Clémence (Noémie Merlant) involved in Michel’s nefarious dealings. Knowing that Michel is lunching with goons, Clémence enters the cafe while Abel waits in the car. Think L.B. Jeffries, with binoculars in hand, watching helplessly as Lisa breaks into Thorwald’s apartment in Rear Window. (Prior to this, Abel drives around spying on his stepfather backed by a vertiginous Bernard Herman string section.) Clémence and Michel have never met, yet he makes her the second she walks through the door. This must be one of those logic-defying moments Garrel warned us about. And how does one explain two lightweight sing-alongs better suited to a Sandra Bullock comedy?

On the plus-side, there’s Poupard’s exceptional location work, split scene bursts that never overstay their welcome, and Sylvie practically ripping out Abel’s sideburns the moment he demands that she not marry Michel. (Poor Sylvie. There’s no one more sheltered and pathetically unknowing than a gangster’s gal.) These isolated moments are barely enough to build and sustain a forward momentum. If The Innocent is guilty of anything, it’s a propensity for silly behavior.

 

Criterion Releasing ‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’ on Disc Dec. 12

The award-winning animated movie Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio will be released on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Dec. 12 by the Criterion Collection. Order date is Nov. 7.

Winner of the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, the film uses intricate stop-motion animation to tell the classic story of the puppet who comes to life, now set against the backdrop of fascist Italy. Directed by Guillermo del Toro alongside Mark Gustafson, the film’s voice cast includes Ewan McGregor, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, and Christoph Waltz.

The film was originally released for streaming on Netflix.

Criterion’s edition includes a new 4K digital master supervised by the directors, with Dolby Atmos on the 4K UHD disc and the Blu-ray. The 4K edition includes the film on a 4K disc with Dolby Vision HDR, and a regular Blu-ray of the film with bonus material.

Extras include:

  • “Handcarved Cinema,” a new documentary featuring the cast and filmmakers, including the film’s diretors, puppet creators, production designers and animation supervisor;
  • “Directing Stop-Motion,” a new program featuring the directors;
  • A new conversation between del Toro and film critic Farran Smith Nehme;
  • A new interview with curator Ron Magliozzi on The Museum of Modern Art’s 2022 exhibition devoted to the film;
  • A new program on the eight rules of animation that informed the film’s production;
  • A panel discussion featuring del Toro, Gustafson, production designer Guy Davis, composer Alexandre Desplat, and sound designer Scott Martin Gershin, moderated by filmmaker James Cameron;
  • A conversation among del Toro, Gustafson, and author Neil Gaiman;
  • Essays by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz and author Cornelia Funke.

 

Imitation of Life (1934)

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Criterion;
Drama;
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Claudette Colbert, Louise Beavers, Fredi Washington, Warren William, Ned Sparks, Alan Hale Sr., Rochelle Hudson, Clarence Wilson, Henry Armetta.

Contemporary audiences watching 1934’s Imitation of Life through the rearview mirror of time will undoubtedly find much to look down their snoots at, and rightfully so. But when viewed from a historical perspective, the rampant stereotyping of yesterday inherent in John Stahl’s adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s novel was once considered groundbreaking. Before passing for white was introduced as the film’s main melodrama motivator, the story gained much of its audience appeal by fancying two fiercely devoted mothers pitched at opposite ends of life’s rainbow. Bea (Claudette Colbert) is a single mom looking to restart the pancake syrup business begun by her late husband. Delilah’s (Louise Beavers) no account man ran off leaving her to look after their conflicted daughter, Peola. Delilah shows up on Bea’s back porch, looking for room and board. The moment she walks through the screen door, it becomes apparent that these two went together like pancakes and syrup.

Both women would go to great lengths to ensure their daughter’s safety, but sometimes even the best of mother’s err. The same rubber duck that opened the picture almost resulted in Baby Jessie (Juanita Quigly, credited as Baby Jane) drowning when left unattended at bathtime. In the time it took Bea to nurse her daughter, Delilah took it upon herself to prepare breakfast. Delilah’s maternal shortcoming cut an even deeper gash in her relationship with her daughter. First off, she prefers “mammy” over “mother.” No sooner did the two mothers meet and Delilah was already drawing Bea’s attention to Peola’s light skin. It was an essential plot point, but in the days when the Hays Office dictated content, miscegenation was impermissible in Hollywood films. It was a law the almighty Production Code stood firm on. When the subject of Delilah’s husband comes up, instead of marrying a white man, she claims that her ex was a light-skinned negro. Peola hates being the product of a mixed marriage and grows to blame her mother for making her black. The only solution was to make Peola’s father black, with just enough white ancestry in him to lighten the load and mollify the censors.

Delilah is able to put a roof over her baby’s head, and for her part of the bargain, Bea gets rich by flipping flapjacks. Her mother’s secret pancake recipe is so good, Delilah becomes the face of a pancake empire. (Aunt Delilah wasn’t a far stretch from Aunt Jemimah, upon whom the character was based.) Bea opens a pancake house on the Boardwalk (in Atlantic City) where her hotcakes sell like hotcakes. She rents the storefront from Clarence Wilson — the meanest skinflint in Tinsel Town this side of Charles Lane. Henry Armetta was hired to paint the ramshackle space with Alan Hale Sr. brought on board to provide the furnishings. Ned Sparks was the cigar chomping down-and-out entrepreneur, with a voice modeled after an air raid siren and the two words needed to turn a corner diner into a flannel cake phenomena: “Bottle it!”

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It’s been written that this was the first Hollywood film to feature a single woman who made it to the top of the corporate ladder without the help of a man. Other than flirting with her debtors, we’re never quite sure how she built her empire. Once it appeared that the diner was poised to take off, a jump-cut whisks us five years into the future, putting to rest any thoughts of an explanation. One guesses that Bea’s feminine wiles had more to do with her success than any innate sense of business acumen. And for those who thought this was the way Ms. Beavers spoke in real life, guess again. It was her Massuhs at Universal who asked that she “coon it up” to help put the white masses at ease. (The studio was also insistent that Beavers kept her weight up.) Beavers spent a career basically playing one role, but from her point-of-view, it was better to make $5,000 a day acting as a maid on television than earning $5 a day playing one in real life.

The passage of time couldn’t erase Peola’s struggle to accept her blackness. An unexpected downpour brings Delilah to Peola’s school with rubbers and umbrella in hand. She’s framed outside the classroom door as though it were visitor’s day at Sing-Sing. Jim Crow laws saw to it that in 1934 a black child would be barred from attending an all-white classroom. (It would be 20 years before Brown vs. The Board of Education mandated racial desegregation.) The humiliation weighed so heavily on Peola she could barely raise her head as she marched to the door amid a gust of gossiping student’s whispers. As much as she loved her mother, that’s how much she resented her. This would mark the first of two instances where Peola was outed by her mother. Years later, Delilah tracks her runaway daughter (played as an adult by Fredi Washington) to the register of a restaurant where she once again outs her baby. It’s the only time in the film where Peola appears relaxed enough to set loose a smile. Washington played a 19-year-old, when in reality she was less than a year younger than the 31-year-old Beavers.

Some groaned over Delilah’s 20% cut of the action and her initial refusal to accept money from Bea. (She asked that her earnings be put towards an extravagant funeral.) After all, it was her secret pancake batter they were getting fat off of. In her defense, Bea provided the syrup and secured the down payments needed to lease and renovate the storefront. Even when Missis Bea awarded Delilah her freedom, she still refused to leave the pancake plantation. Delilah would be content to spend the rest of her days in servitude to Bea. This is best summed up in a shot taken from the first-floor landing, with Bea walking up one flight to the mistress’ boudoir and Delilah hoofing it downstairs to her basement accommodations. To no one’s surprise, the woman who came up with the pancake mix isn’t allowed to come to the victory dinner. And wouldn’t it have been nice if for once Delilah took a load off while Bea rubbed her feet.   

The inimitable Warren William co-stars as Stephen Archer, an ichthyologist whose profession exists as a means to draw cheap laughs. (Earlier that year, William played Caesar opposite Colbert’s Cleopatra.) There is one particularly cruel moment when Bea laughs at Delilah fumbling over the word. No one makes a joke when Jessie (played as an adult by Rochelle Hudson), a white college student, sneaks into the other room to consult a dictionary. As written, Delilah is simple to the point of being childlike making it difficult to take her character seriously.

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Allow me a moment of self-congratulation. I wrote the entire review without once mentioning Douglas Sirk’s both deeply sardonic and remarkably reverent 1959 remake, which happens to be an all-time personal favorite. If you haven’t seen it, I cannot urge you enough to watch them as a double feature. Criterion’s special Blu-ray Edition includes interviews with Miriam J. Petty on the careers of Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington, as well as insights into the career of John Stahl from Imogen Sara Smith. There’s also a trailer pitched to black audiences that showcases Beavers and Washington over Colbert. Those looking for a commentary track had best consult Universal’s Imitation of Life two-Movie Collection and enjoy the second audio commentary featuring African-American cultural scholar Avery Clayton.

Nov. 8 New Home Video Releases Include ‘Power of the Dog,’ ‘Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm’

The week of Nov. 8 sees titles such as The Power of the Dog and Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm arrive on disc, while Amsterdam makes its way to digital retailers.

The Academy Award-winning film The Power of the Dog arrives on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Nov. 8 from the Criterion Collection. The Western psychological drama adapted from Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name takes place in the desolate plains of 1920s Montana. After a sensitive widow (Kirsten Dunst) and her enigmatic, fiercely loving son (Kodi Smit-Mcphee) move in with her gentle new husband (Jesse Plemons), a tense battle of wills plays out between them and his brutish brother (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose frightening volatility conceals a secret torment, and whose capacity for tenderness, once reawakened, may offer him redemption or destruction. Following a limited international theatrical run, the film was released on Netflix in December 2021 and went on to earn 12 Oscar nominations, winning Best Director for veteran filmmaker Jane Campion. The disc release includes a 4K digital master of the film approved by Campion. The Blu-ray and 4K versions offer a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Nov. 8 releases the new direct-to-video movie based on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm, on Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and for digital purchase. This is the second film adaptation of the 2000-15 series from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, following 2007’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters that earned $5.5 million at the box office. The film finds the Aqua Teens — the brainy Frylock, the mouthy Master Shake, the lovable Meatwad, and perverted neighbor Carl — splitting up but then getting back together to fight the corporate overlord Amazin, led by tech mogul, Neil (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz) and his trusty scientist sidekick, Elmer (Paul Walter Hauser). Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm stars Carey Means as Frylock, Dana Snyder as Master Shake, and Willis as Meatwad. The film also stars Natasha Rothwell and Tim Robinson. The movie was written and directed by Willis and Maiellaro, and produced by Williams Street Productions. Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm will be available for streaming on HBO Max and will air on Adult Swim in 2023.

Lionsgate releases the psychological thriller Devil’s Workshop on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Nov. 8. Emile Hirsch stars as a struggling actor who is desperate for a role as a demonologist. He contacts an expert in devil lore (Radha Mitchell) who forces him to confront his troubling past and perform dark rituals.

Lionsgate releases the psychological thriller Dig on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Nov. 8. Dig stars Thomas Jane as a man trying to piece together a life shattered by a road rage incident that killed his wife and left his teen daughter (played by Harlow Jane, Thomas Jane’s real-life daughter), deaf and resentful of him. Still hoping to mend things with her a year later, he accepts a contract for a high-paying demolition job in the desolate New Mexico sprawl outside Las Cruces. But when they arrive on site, they are taken hostage by a dangerous couple (Emile Hirsch and Liana Liberato) who will stop at nothing to retrieve what lies beneath the property, forcing the father and daughter to work together to outsmart their captors and survive the grueling night.

The supernatural action thriller Shadow Master will be released via on demand and digital Nov. 8 from Saban Films. In the film, slain during a ferocious fight and reborn with supernatural powers, one man stands between demonic forces bent on hastening the apocalypse and a ragtag group of apartment dwellers protecting their children from certain peril. Directed by Pearry Teo, the film is a mix of haunted house chills and martial arts.

Disney-owned 20th Century Studios’ and New Regency’s Amsterdam, written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker David O. Russell, is getting an early digital release nearly a month ahead of its disc debut. Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution releases the epic crime murder-mystery for digital purchase and rent on all major digital platforms on Nov. 11.  Amsterdam is about three close friends in the 1930s who witness a murder, are framed for it, and then uncover a shocking plot to turn the United States into a fascist country. Equal parts fact and fiction, the film stars Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, Rami Malek, Robert Niro, John David Washington, Alessandro Nivola, Andrea Riseborough, Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Rock, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Taylor Swift, Timothy Olyphant and Zoe Saldana. It arrives on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray Disc and DVD Dec. 6.

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Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Nov. 8 releases Casablanca with a new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack and a 4K digital release for its 80th anniversary. Starring Academy Award winners Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the 1942 film has been called “the best Hollywood movie of all time” by famed film critic Leonard Maltin. The winner of three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, Casablanca was directed by Michael Curtiz from a screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. The screenplay is based on “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” an unproduced stage play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. The film was produced by Hal B. Wallis. Casablanca was voted the screen’s greatest love story and the No. 3 film of all time by the American Film Institute (AFI). The classic wartime romance also took Oscars for Michael Curtiz (Directing); Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch (Writing – Screenplay) and the studio (Outstanding Motion Picture). In 1989, the United States Library of Congress selected the film as one of the first for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” For its 4K Ultra HD debut, the film was restored and remastered from a 2022 4K 16bit film scan of the best-surviving nitrate film elements. The 4K-scanned digital images went through an extensive digital restoration process to clean and repair the picture for an unprecedented and pristine ultra-high-resolution presentation. The restored images were then graded in high dynamic range, providing the highest fidelity in image contrast and detail retention, by Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging. The original theatrical mono audio has also been newly restored, providing a richer and broader frequency response than previously possible.

Lionsgate Nov. 8 releases the 1988 comedy Earth Girls Are Easy on Blu-ray through its Vestron Video Collector’s Series specialty label. The film stars Geena Davis as a dimwitted valley-girl manicurist whose sunbathing session is interrupted when a spaceship crashes into her pool. She soon befriends the occupants of the vessel — three furry aliens played by Jeff Goldblum, Damon Wayans and Jim Carrey — and gives them a makeover to appear human. With their new disguises, the extraterrestrial trio embarks on a wild weekend filled with partying, police pursuits and interplanetary love. Davis and Goldblum, who were married at the time, had previously starred together in The Fly. The film also represents early roles for Carrey and Wayans, who later appear together on the sketch comedy series “In Living Color” starting in 1990.

The 1979 Clint Eastwood classic Escape From Alcatraz arrives on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc from Kino Lorber. The film finds Eastwood and director Don Siegel reteaming for their fifth and final joint venture. Escape From Alcatraz tells the fascinating story of the only three men ever to escape from the notorious maximum-security prison at Alcatraz, an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. In 29 years, the seemingly impenetrable federal penitentiary, which housed Al Capone and “Birdman” Robert Stroud, was only broken once — by three men never heard of again. Eastwood portrays Frank Morris, the cunning bank robber who masterminded the elaborately detailed and, as far as anyone knows, ultimately successful, escape. Patrick McGoohan portrays the suspicious warden. Filmed on location in Alcatraz, this reenactment of a true story also co-stars Fred Ward, Roberts Blossom, Jack Thibeau, Paul Benjamin and Larry Hankin. The screenplay is by Richard Tuggle,  based on a book by J. Campbell Bruce. The two-disc set features a new HDR/Dolby Vision Master by Paramount Pictures from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, as well as a standard Blu-ray Disc edition of the film.

The Korean horror fantasy sequel The Witch 2: The Other One will be released on digital, DVD and Blu-ray Disc Nov. 8 from Well Go USA Entertainment. In this sequel to the popular Korean sci-fi action thriller The Witch: Part 1 — Subversion, the story moves away from a confined secret lab and out into the real world. After a mysterious girl emerges as the sole survivor of a bloody raid on the research facility behind the top-secret Witch Program, she is rescued by a pair of civilians who soon realize the girl is both very powerful and in very grave danger. However, as the assassins tasked with locating and silencing the girl move ever closer, the lives of everyone around her fall under increasingly great peril.

NCircle Entertainment and Distribution Solutions will release Atomic Cartoons’ The Last Kids on Earth — Book One on digital and DVD Nov. 8. Based on the No. 1 New York Times best-selling children’s book line, the animated series launches on DVD with a 66-minute special episode that won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Animated Program. The release includes the bonus episode “Happy Apocalypse to You.” The hugely popular tween series features the voices of Nick Wolfhard (“Smiling Friends,” “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic”), Montse Hernandez (“Jane the Virgin,” “Elena of Avalor’), Garland Whitt (Training Day, Save the Last Dance), as well as a celebrity cast that includes Mark Hamill, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Campbell and Catherine O’Hara. In the series, ever since the monster apocalypse hit town, 13-year-old Jack Sullivan has been living in his tree house. He’s armed it to the teeth with catapults, crossbows and a moat, not to mention video games and an endless supply of snacks scavenged from abandoned stores. But Jack alone is no match for the hordes of Zombies and Winged Wretches and Vine-Thingies, and especially not for the eerily intelligent monster known only as Blarg. So he builds a team: his genius best friend Quint; the reformed middle school bully Dirk; lone wolf survivor June Del Toro; and Jack’s loyal pet monster Rover. With their help, Jack plans to slay Blarg and achieve the ultimate feat of apocalyptic success. A 10-episode Book Two DVD and a 10-episode Book Three DVD will be released in the first quarter of 2023.

A complete list of new disc and digital releases, compiled each week by the Media Play News market research team, can be found here.

‘Buddy Games,’ ‘Iron Mask’ Top Slate of Thanksgiving Week Disc and Digital Releases

The Paramount Pictures comedy Buddy Games, the Arnold Schwarzenegger fantasy adventure Iron Mask, and the fifth season of popular TV series “Better Call Saul” top the slate of new disc and digital releases available for home viewers beginning Nov. 24.

Also newly available to buy or rent: the Martin Scorsese mob film The Irishman and Paramount’s Fatman, a black comedy starring Mel Gibson.

Buddy Games is being released through digital retailers and on DVD.  The film follows six lifelong friends who have a five-year falling out. Bob (Josh Duhamel), aka “The Bobfather,” reunites his pals for the Buddy Games, a competition of absurd physical and mental challenges with the chance to win a $150,000 pot. The determined dudes fight, claw and party for the big bucks in this bro-fest featuring Dax Shepard (CHiPs), Olivia Munn (Office Christmas Party) and Kevin Dillon (“Entourage”).

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Lionsgate is bringing Iron Mask to Blu-ray Disc and DVD four days after the film was released through digital retailers. Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan face off against each other in battle. In order to save his homeland from certain doom, a kung fu master (Chan) must escape from the maniacal James Hook (Schwarzenegger) to send his daughter a secret talisman that will allow her to control a massive and mythical dragon. The globe-trotting tale — ranging from the impenetrable Tower of London to the fabled Silk Road and China’s Great Wall — also stars Rutger Hauer in one of the screen icon’s final performances.

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“Better Call Saul” is the critically hailed prequel to “Breaking Bad.” In season 5, which Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is releasing Nov. 24 on Blu-ray Disc and DVD, Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) begins practicing law under the name Saul Goodman. Extras on the Blu-ray and DVD include cast and crew commentaries on all 10 episodes, a gag reel, Mesa Verde Bank and Trust TV spots, Kim’s ethics training videos, and a “Crystal Balls” featurette. The Blu-ray also offers deleted scenes and assorted featurettes.

The Irishman, which earned a slew of Oscar nominations after debuting on Netflix in 2019, is being issued as a two-disc Blu-ray Disc and DVD set by Criterion. The film stars two well-known alumni of previous Scorsese gangster films, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, as well as Al Pacino, who left his mark on the genre with his portrayal of Michael Corleone in the three “Godfather” movies. De Niro stars as Sheeran, the “Irishman” of the title, a truck driver who gets drawn into the mafia as an enforcer. He eventually becomes a trusted ally of Teamster president Hoffa (Pacino), a friendship that comes to a head when Hoffa’s actions run afoul of the mafia’s leadership.

Fatman stars Gibson as a frustrated Santa Claus who is targeted by a rich kid who received a lump of coal for his selfishness. The kid hires an assassin to kill Santa.

A complete list of new disc and digital releases, compiled each week by the Media Play News market research team, can be found here.

Destry Rides Again

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Criterion;
Western;
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Marlene Dietrich, James Stewart, Brian Donlevy, Jack Carson, Irene Hervey, Charles Winninger.

Partly by default and partly because it’s true, 1939’s Destry Rides Again is, as the great Imogen Sara Smith says in her interview on Criterion’s new release of what’s likely the most respected film from director George Marshall, also the best comic Western of all time. To really cut it, any contender has to work as a comedy and a Western, and Destry is pretty close to being able to stand alone in this specialist genre’s latter component. In fact, to my taste, there’s a little too much comedy and certainly music here, but it’s the musical numbers that have given the film its place in history, so what are you going to do?

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Marlene Dietrich is the one of the actresses that exhibitors had listed as “box office poison,” and she was just coming off Ernst Lubitsch’s flop-at-the-time Angel, which is now a major revisionist cause that Kino just brought out in a new Blu-ray that I haven’t seen despite commentary by major leaguer Joseph McBride, a Lubitsch biographer. (I was also struck that Andrew Sarris rated it very highly decades ago in his landmark The American Cinema.) Of all people, Dietrich “creator” and overall guru Josef von Sternberg encouraged her to take on Destry, with was a major face lift to her screen image.

She plays the in-house entertainment and fleecing assistant at the Last Chance Saloon, which is also the best chance around in which to lose your home and often your life in crooked poker games run by the joint’s proprietor (Brian Donlevy, naturally). As “Frenchy,” Dietrich provides gambling distractions but also performs several songs, including one of her signatures: “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have,” one of several light moments to camouflage the fact that the town law has mysteriously vanished off the face of the Earth. To take his place, the town’s crooked judge who’s under Donlevy’s thumb (Samuel S. Hinds) appoints the saloon’s resident sot (Charles Winninger) as the replacement law. In rare moments of sobriety, the last knows he’s in over his head, so he imports Tom Destry Jr. (James Stewart) as his deputy — son of a famed lawman and himself an individual of reputation in other places. Fun fact: Hinds later played Stewart’s father in It’s a Wonderful Life — talk about another image facelift).

Well … the first the town sees him, he’s helping a “good girl” (Irene Hervey) off the stage and in the process aiding her by holding some of her garb in his hands. Then it turns out that he doesn’t carry a gun. This is all good for guffaws on the street, and Donlevy is delighted once he gets over his sheer double-take bewilderment (no actor did this better than he did), though Winninger is, of course, mortified. Another fun fact: Hervey was married to singer Allan Jones in real life, whose big hit was “The Donkey Serenade” from the same year. Together, they parented singer Jack Jones, and I think I recall from an old “This Is Your Life” episode that he recorded it the same night Jack was born.

Stewart, though, turns out to have his own effective style at defusing trouble, and he develops something of a perverse relationship with Dietrich that includes lots of physical mayhem in the saloon and in her living quarters. Even with this, though, the big fight is between Dietrich and Uni Merkel as a local wife who will tolerate no nonsense. And speaking of violence, calming Hervey has a hothead brother played by Jack Carson in a role much meaner than he usually did. Donlevy, who really does own everything, wants to change Carson for moving his cattle over Donlevy land, and Carson just knocks down a fence and plus on through.

Eventually, Stewart employs a few surprises in his style and finally proves he has the stuff, as he additionally pursues whatever happened to the missing Winninger predecessor. Another ‘A’-teamer (Farran Nehme) wrote the Criterion essay, and she notes how, for all its glory, Destry was actually fairly far down on the year’s list of the renowned 1939’s biggest hits, such was the competition.

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Bowing again to Gary Tooze on his DVD Beaver site, I totally agree to unexpectedly striking degree that the All-Region Koch Blu-ray from Germany several years ago has far crisper visuals despite Criterion getting a 4K treatment here. But Criterion’s extras are very cool, including Marshall talking about working during Hollywood’s formative years (he’s right out of the unmatched Kevin Brownlow Hollywood documentary from the early 1930s). And the insights from Donald Dewey, author of James Stewart — A Biography, so impressed me that I tried to get the book for my Kindle, but it isn’t available. All in all this is a strong package, but boy, that Koch version looks good.

Mike’s Picks: ‘King Creole’ and ‘Destry Rides Again’

Mike’s Picks: ‘King Creole’ and ‘Destry Rides Again’

King Creole

Paramount, Musical, $29.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Elvis Presley, Carolyn Jones,Walter Matthau, Dolores Hart, Dean Jagger.
1958.
King Creole was, like most of Elvis’ pre-army screen outings, shot in black-and-white. But there was nothing stingy about the production, and the New Orleans locales that producer Hal Wallis sprung for add immeasurably to the ambience right from the opening, synching beautifully with the studio-shot material that makes up the bulk of the drama.
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Destry Rides Again

Criterion; Western; $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray; NR.
Stars Marlene Dietrich, James Stewart, Brian Donlevy, Jack Carson, Irene Hervey, Charles Winninger.
1939.
Destry Rides Again is likely the most respected film from director George Marshall, and also the best comic Western of all time.
Extras: Criterion’s extras are very cool, including Marshall talking about working during Hollywood’s formative years. And the insights from Donald Dewey, author of James Stewart — A Biography, are impressive.
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Salesman

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Criterion;
Documentary;
$39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.

Salesman was the documentary feature debut that put the Maysles Brothers (David and Albert) on the map along with Charlotte Zwerin, whose subtle editing choices here are, with good reason, the kind often termed as “invisible,” though we subliminally sense that they’re there. The team’s real breakthrough, if you’re talking about audience magnets, came a couple years later with Gimme Shelter, aka the Rolling Stones/Altamont train-wreck-on-film — which every hip person of a certain age just had to see at the time (its shelf life has been robust, too). But Salesman, which the Brothers had to go out and sell all by themselves, did garner a lot of ink and outstanding reviews from its very opening.

The result is a highly specialized real-life portrayal that personally hit me between the eyes the first time I saw it — and still does. More on this later, but the salient point here is that we end up following four Irish-Catholic door-to-door salesmen of middle age and pet nicknames — charged with unloading deluxe doorstop Bibles full of elaborate illustrative paintings to customers who haven’t the money to make the monthly payments. There are tough ways to attempt a living, but making cold calls on straight commission as far as six U.S. states away from home is right up there. And then you drive somewhere else the following week.

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The 1969 documentary was lucky in a sense because it found a star in the making with soul-of-a-poet main protagonist Paul Brennan, the colorfully blarney-spouting member of the sales quartet (when it suits his needs or fancy) who, by coincidence, became the focus here because he is losing his touch. The old bag-of-tricks formulas that riff on a largely canned presentation aren’t working lately, and he’s starting to press — which then has a way of feeding on itself to make things worse. The other salesmen, who’ve been doing fairly well lately against equally tough odds, are sympathetic — but can’t get too close to Paul (nicknamed “The Badger”) or his escalating woes because they might rub off and poison their own well. But segregation isn’t easy to pull off when they’re all looming in close quarters at this week’s anonymous motel.

At this point, I should probably mention that during that flailing period after grad school when I was awaiting my Big Break (which did eventually come), I went on the road myself under the tutelage of my local Encyclopedia Brittanica rep/manager selling Great Books of the Western World on college campuses from Buffalo to Denton, Texas. It was a much younger crew than the one we see in Salesman, working a classy product (Ptolemy, anyone?) to a sharper clientele. But the documentary’s portrayal of the day-to-day lifestyle (a generous term) is chillingly on the mark, unearthing memories I was happy to relegate to eternal slumber miles beneath the earth’s core.

First, it was the long drives to the selling destination, which meant you began your work day at night when you were already whipped. You shared a motel room with someone who was a decent guy as long as you kept the conversation to the two male basics — sports and women — but with whom you otherwise had nothing in common, starting with the fact that, ironically, they never read books during the job’s rare down time). If motel fluorescent lighting could kill you, I wouldn’t have lived to see The Godfather Part II. And then there were the motivational tapes (something we don’t see the Salesman crew have to endure) that we were strongly motivated to buy; I think my manager (someone I liked but one slick Willie), had a piece of that action. In any event, the recorded motivator talked of nothing but attaining material goods and how you could now arrange your schedule to play a lot of golf (really deep stuff here). Negative thoughts were frowned upon, and here I was in the final chapters of the great Warren G. Harding bio The Shadow of Burning Grove, at a time when the administration’s suicides were beginning (“That’s positive,” said my boss, sardonically). When I finally decided to quit mid-week on the road — and I’d had some boffo sales weeks, though they were strongly front-loaded — he had me on a long bus ride back home in a blink, and I never saw any of the crew again. I would have infected the operation, which I understood and accepted.

One thing these two situations had in common were these impromptu customers’ inability to pay once the vendor got in the door (in Salesman, the crew members say they’re “with the church,” which is at best true only on a whopper of a technicality). The Maysles did their filming — and they found that most customers liked, and soon got used to, being on camera — in 1966 or early ’67. One offshoot of this is that everyone here smokes (“Sure, come right into my home and light up”), and truth to tell, this is equally so of the housewives-in-curlers who have to listen to the pitch, occasionally bite and then get read the riot act when their husbands get home that night to see that the family budget has been ambushed. By this time, it’s impossible to cancel the order, though laws were later enacted by the time of my own employment to provide a short “remorse” window.

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The Maysles divide their shooting time between miserably snowy Massachusetts not far from Boston and Miami, with the latter a seeming respite except for the fact that the neighborhood streets where Paul is assigned are such a byzantine tackle box that he can’t locate the household on which he has a lead, however shaky. Adding narrative rhythm to all this are the crew’s bull sessions back in their motel rooms (lots of low-stakes poker gets played for a quality-of-life bonus) and also the large national group meeting that’s intended to provide both motivation and a little ass-kicking. The sales manager isn’t exactly ogre-ish Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, but he makes it clear that they’d better produce — while the publisher rep, spiritual dimension quickly dispensed with, concedes they are basically pushing “product.” Paul and one other guy on his specific crew are thin and bony, but practically everyone else here is overweight, middle-aged and a figure of sympathy unless he happens to be on a sales roll.

The accompanying essay by critic Michael Chaiken and a 1969 Maysles TV interview by onetime Newsweek film critic Jack Kroll are up to Criterion standards and the original DVD’s commentary by Albert Mayles and Zwerin has been carried over. But the high point is unquestionably the full-length inclusion of a spoof from the “Documentary Now!” cable series, in which Bill Hader and Fred Armisen expertly have their way in Globesman, a precisely detailed replication about guys trudging through the same snow and the like to peddle globes. Hader also provides a separate appreciation for the original film. As he has proven before, Hader is no movie dilettante, but a funny man who also truly knows and loves film history. He is a treasure.

Mike’s Picks: ‘A Little Romance’ and ‘Salesman’

Four Netflix Films Join Criterion Collection

Four Netflix films — Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s American Factory and Mati Diop’s Atlantics — will join the Criterion Collection in 2020.

These four films will join Alfonso Cuaron’s three-time Academy Award winning Roma, which was previously announced as the first Netflix film to receive a home video debut via the Criterion Collection. Roma will be available on Criterion DVD and Blu-ray on Feb. 11.

The Irishman, a mob film starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, has received five Golden Globe nominations, 10 BAFTA nominations, and 10 Academy Award nominations, in addition to being named Best Film of the Year by the National Board of Review and NY Film Critics Circle. With his ninth directing nomination, Martin Scorsese is the most-nominated living director in Academy history.

Marriage Story, a drama starring Scarlet Johansson and Adam Driver, won Best Film at the Gotham Awards and received six Golden Globe nominations, the most of any film, with Laura Dern winning the Golden Globe and the SAG Award for Best Supporting Actress. This was followed by six Academy Award nominations. It has received multiple SAG, BAFTA and PGA nominations.

American Factory premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival where directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert won the Directing Award for U.S. Documentary. Produced with Participant Media, American Factory is the first title presented by President and Mrs. Obama’s Higher Ground Productions. Since its August release, the film has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary as well as the Best Documentary BAFTA award. For Reichert, American Factory marks her fourth Oscar nomination.

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Atlantics premiered in competition at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where it was awarded the Grand Prix. The film is Diop’s feature directorial debut and she is the first black woman to compete for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. The film went on to play the Toronto Film Festival, where Diop was awarded the inaugural Mary Pickford Award, recognizing emerging female talent. Atlantics was on the Academy shortlist for the Best International Feature Film Oscar and Diop received a DGA Nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film Director.

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Each Criterion Collection release will include exclusive behind-the-scenes content, special features and a filmmaker-supervised master.

The Roma Criterion release will include Road to Roma, a new documentary about the making of the film, featuring behind-the-scenes footage and an interview with Cuarón, as well as many other special features.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Holiday’ and ‘Trapped’

Holiday

Criterion, Comedy, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Lew Ayres, Doris Nolan, Edward Everett Horton.
1938.
Adapted from a play Philip Barry wrote well before he concocted The Philadelphia Story, this comic portrait of the unapologetic rich featured one of the four pairings of Katharine Hebburn and Cary Grant. Hepburn is as full of herself as ever, but this time in charming ways against a story that makes one fully empathize with her character. And Grant, so soon after The Awful Truth “made” him, gets another chance to deliver on his burgeoning screen charm but against a less farcical backdrop.
Extras: The Blu-ray includes the 1930 version of the story. Also included are an often funny back-and-forth from critics Michael Sragow and Michael Schlesinger; excerpts from 1970-72 AFI interviews of director George Cukor; a costume photo tribute; and a welcome essay by Slate critic Dana Stevens.
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Trapped

Flicker Alley, Drama, $34.99 Blu-ray/DVD, NR.
Stars Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Payton, John Hoyt.
1949.
For a tawdry, if seductively so, minor melodrama that director Richard Fleischer apparently didn’t even mention in his memoirs despite early-career finesse with noir, Trapped is full of what genre enthusiasts, at least, would count as curio compensations.
Extras: The esteemed Alan Rode and the luminous Julie Kirgo offer a Blu-ray commentary.
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