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.

‘The Jesus Rolls’ Spins on Disc May 5

Screen Media will release the comedic crime caper The Jesus Rolls on Blu-ray Disc and DVD May 5. The film is available now through digital retailers and VOD.

The film was written by, directed by and stars John Turturro as Jesus Quintana, the character he originally played in The Big Lebowski, in a new adventure based on the French farce Les Valseuses.

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After being released from prison, Jesus and his best friend Petey (Bobby Cannavale) steal a vintage car for a no-holds-barred joyride, the first of a series of escalating bad decisions that finds them pursued by the car’s gun-toting owner (Jon Hamm) and on the run with free-spirited shampooist Marie (Audrey Tautou).

The cast also includes Christopher Walken, Pete Davidson and Susan Sarandon.

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Jungle Fever

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
Drama;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
‘R’ for sensuality, strong language, drug content, and for violence.
Stars Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra, Samuel L. Jackson, John Turturro, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee.

A whole big bunch of things are much easier to accomplish than figuring out just what the genre of this ambitious 1991 Spike Lee potpourri is, which means that “Romantic Social Drama” will have to do for now. Though Jungle Fever is a movie I really like and possibly more to the point, really enjoy, I do wonder about the second feature Lee made after the outrageous failure of Do the Right Thing to win the Best Picture Oscar a couple years earlier. Yet if I overrated Fever in my original USA Today review, it still scintillates for me in a way that several best picture winners of the past 20 years have not (though, no, this wasn’t the case with Parasite). Yet, it’s on the messy side, as well as the first historical indication I had of a problem that has plagued the writer-director’s features throughout his career (though not, I would add, his great documentaries).

This is the tendency of Lee to overstuff his narratives (and the running times that usually go along with this) to a degree that would altogether wreck a lot of pictures that lack most of his filmography’s redemptive drive, dependably provocative subject matter, imaginative smorgasbord-like casting and sheer filmmaking passion. Never has that been more true than here, where there are two distinctive storylines that Lee can’t find a way to mesh without large 1.85 seams showing — even if they do feature (but don’t always emphasize to equal degree) at least some of the same characters. In fact, even within the same storyline, the movie sometimes stops to digress, as when a spurned light-skinned Harlem wife (Lonette McKee) and her women friends spend maybe 10 minutes bandying about the frequent tendency of black men to pursue white women in a way that complicates matters for everyone. It doesn’t quite stop the picture but just misses doing so.

Interracial “jungle” attraction is indeed Fever’s main thrust, as McKee’s otherwise sturdy architect husband (Wesley Snipes) shoots past the 98.6 standard with his new Italian temp/secretary (Annabella Sciorra), a Bensonhurst native whose hiring he initially resisted. This is all happening during a period of Snipes resentment toward his white superiors, who are going the namby-pamby route to foil his partnership aspirations despite the highly visible contributions he has made to the firm. Tim Robbins and a cleaned-up Brad Dourif have these roles, and can Robbins ever play this kind of smoothie in his sleep. Snipes ends up getting himself in what one would assume to be financial peril from the accumulation of these events, though this presumed cause-effect is curiously unaddressed.

What is addressed is the racist cretinism of Sciorra’s father and brother, Italian stereotypes of a certain sub-breed who unfortunately don’t come off as stereotypes here — or at least in the way that an unbridled Anthony Quinn (one of those Quinn performances where he risks a hernia reading his dialogue) does playing John Turturro’s oppressive father. Turturro, as the spurned Sciorra boyfriend who works the counter in the family neighborhood drug store, is the sole voice of reason despite getting no help from his own black-hating buddies, who include the Sciorra brothers. Turturro will have nothing of the latter vitriol and despite his pain over having been dumped, is toying with asking out a frequent black store customer who encourages his self-improvement regimen (the exceptionally attractive Tyra Ferrell).

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The movie’s in-name-only other half rates significantly less than 50% screen time but nonetheless provides Jungle with its one indisputably great claim to fame. Nowadays, Samuel L. Jackson is so ubiquitous that if you’re in bed having one of those surreal Melatonin dreams at night, he’s as likely as not to show up in it, even if the dream’s setting is, say, your boss’s toddler daughter’s birthday party. But there was a time when he wasn’t well known, and his performance as Snipes’ crackhead brother so ambushed critics and audiences that, to give one example, the Cannes Film Festival created its first supporting actor award just so that Jackson could be recognized. He’d been around in small roles — there’d even been an appearance in GoodFellas the year previously — but nothing like this. It was something akin to when a relatively obscure Morgan Freeman got cast as a pimp in 1987’s Street Smart from the more often than not ignominious Cannon Films and made such a striking surprise impression that he eventually got an Oscar nomination.

Compared to brother Snipes and, for that matter, nearly everyone else in the picture, Jackson is the bad seed — regularly putting the financial touch on his desperate but enabling mother (Ruby Dee) after his father (Ossie Davis) long ago forbade him even to enter their home. Sometimes, mom’s out of enough cookie-jar money, so dad’s color TV will have to do, whose theft will provide either solace or the funds to go up his nose in a street-side crack den in the company of his companion (Halle Berry — does this movie have a cast or what)? This leads to the movie’s most powerful set piece when Snipes, as a favor to mother Dee, pounds the pavement to find Jackson as Stevie Wonder’s timeless “Living for the City” provides the musical backdrop.

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I would have thought, by 1991 and with an entire Wonder score, the movie would have a stereo track, and matter of fact, there’s one listed at the end of the glorious end credits (more on these in a second). This Blu-ray doesn’t, nor is there any commentary nor much to speak of in terms of chapter stops, which I’m speculating is true as well with other Universal-released Lees that Kino has just issued and that I’m hot to re-see: Mo’ Better Blues; Crooklyn; and Clockers. Also not here is (and I think it would have been) is that great sweaty blacksmith coda — amusingly purloined from Jack Webb’s old Mark VII Productions — that signified one of Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks productions.

But in any rendering, Fever’s exit music is “Feeding Off the Love of the Land,” my favorite Stevie ballad ever and for some reason a song not on the original soundtrack CD, an omission that rated a zillion-decibel string of profanities from me in 1991 before it much later showed up on a couple of pricey Wonder sets. (Motown released it as a single, but I suspect it was without the strings that Spike’s musician father Bill Lee added for the movie’s version, which I personally think “makes” the finale.)  I also love the way its lyrics splash across the screen a line at the time, an effect I don’t think I’ve ever seen in any other movie. It’s a very powerful way to send audiences home (or wrap up a viewing-room evening) — even if, as frequently compelling as Jungle is, a viewer can be forgiven for wondering what exactly he or she has just seen.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Cimarron’ and ‘Jungle Fever’

Kino Unveils ‘Mo’ Better Blues,’ ‘Jungle Fever’ and Other Spike Lee Classics on Blu-ray

Kino Lorber Studio Classics has released on Blu-ray five films by director Spike Lee, Mo’ Better BluesJungle Fever, Crooklyn, Clockers and Summer of Sam.

Summer of Sam is also available on DVD.

Each Blu-ray includes optional English subtitles as well as the theatrical trailer for the film. CrooklynClockers and Summer of Sam all include 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Lossless Stereo audio options. Mo’ Better Blues and Clockers both include a new audio commentary by film critic Kameron Austin Collins. Summer of Sam also includes “Fear City,” a new interview with John Leguizamo, and audio commentary by Lee and Leguizamo.

Mo’ Better Blues (1990) follows talented trumpeter Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington) who’s obsessed by his music and indecisive about his two girlfriends (Joie Lee and Cynda Williams). But when he has to come to the aid of his manager and childhood friend (Lee), Bleek finds his world more fragile than he ever imagined. The cast also includes Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, Robin Harris, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Nicholas Turturro, Samuel L. Jackson, Charlie Murphy, Abbey Lincoln and Rubén Blades.

Jungle Fever (1991) explores the provocative consequences of interracial relationships. African American architect Flipper Purify (Wesley Snipes) begins an affair with his working-class Italian American secretary, Angie Tucci (Annabella Sciorra), which causes them to be scrutinized by their friends, cast out from their families and shunned by their neighbors. The film also stars Lee, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Anthony Quinn, John Turturro, Samuel L. Jackson, Halle Berry, Tim Robbins, Lonette McKee, Frank Vincent, Brad Dourif, Nicholas Turturro, Michael Imperioli, Michael Badalucco, Debi Mazar, Theresa Randle, Rick Aiello, Miguel Sandoval and Charlie Murphy. It features music by Stevie Wonder.

Crooklyn (1994) is a semi-autobiographical portrait of a schoolteacher, her stubborn jazz musician husband and their five kids living in Brooklyn in 1973. The film follows the Carmichael family as they experience one very special summer in their Brooklyn neighborhood that they’ve affectionately nicknamed Crooklyn. Lee fashions a bold, flavorful picture of family life starring the wonderful Alfre Woodard as Carolyn, a loving, but fiercely independent mother who, along with her musician husband Woody (Delroy Lindo), struggles to raise their family in difficult but often wonderful circumstances. The supporting cast includes Lee, David Patrick Kelly, Zelda Harris, Isaiah Washington, José Zúñiga and Vondie Curtis-Hall.

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Clockers (1995) is a crime-drama based on a book by Richard Price (The Wanderers), who co-wrote the screenplay with Lee. A “clocker” is a 24-hour drug dealer, and Strike (Mekhi Phifer) is the hardest-working one on the streets. But for Strike, time is running out. When the local drug kingpin tips Strike off about an opportunity for advancement, a rival dealer ends up dead, and Strike suddenly finds himself caught between two homicide detectives. One is Mazilli (John Turturro), who’s only looking for an easy bust. The other is Rocco (Harvey Keitel), who’s looking for something much harder to find-the truth-and when Strike’s law-abiding brother confesses to the murder, Rocco vows not to rest until he’s sure the real shooter is behind bars. The film also includes performances by Delroy Lindo, Keith David, Isaiah Washington, Regina Taylor and Michael Imperioli.

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Summer of Sam (1999) is Lee’s take on the “Son of Sam” murders in New York City during the summer of 1977, centering on the residents of an Italian-American Bronx neighborhood who live in fear and distrust of one another. The heat is soaring to record highs, blackouts are filling the streets with looters and the murders of a man who calls himself the Son of Sam are gripping the city in fear. As friends in a small Bronx community become obsessed with the idea that the Son of Sam is someone nearby, the madman’s fearsome plague of terror becomes the catalyst that prompts relationships to fall apart and trust to disintegrate into dread. The film stars John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Esposito, Michael Rispoli, Bebe Neuwirth, Patti LuPone, Mike Starr, Anthony LaPaglia and Ben Gazzara.

‘Gloria Bell’ Coming to Digital May 21, Disc June 4 From Lionsgate

Gloria Bell, starring Julianne Moore, will arrive on digital May 21 and Blu-ray (plus digital) and DVD June 4 from Lionsgate and A24.

The film follows Gloria (Moore), a free-spirited, divorced woman in her 50s seeking love at L.A. dance clubs. The film also stars John Turturro, Rita Wilson, Brad Garrett, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Sean Astin and Holland Taylor.

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Bonus features include the featurette “An Extraordinary Woman: Making Gloria Bell” and an audio commentary with director Sebastián Lelio.

The Big Lebowski: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Comedy;
$19.98 UHD BD, $59.98 UHD BD Gift Set;
Rated ‘R’ for pervasive strong language, drug content, sexuality and brief violence.
Stars Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Sam Elliott, Peter Stormare, Tara Reid.

Throw on a bathrobe, grab some White Russians and get ready to immerse yourself in the off-kilter farce that is The Big Lebowski with a fun gift set containing the film in both glorious 1080p Blu-ray and now 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

Wait, you think Lebowski is too much of an insubstantial follow-up for the Coen Brothers following the accolades heaped upon them in 1996 for Fargo? Yeah, well, that’s just like, your opinion man.

What we have here, man, is a Coen classic out of ’98 loosely based on Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. Pretty far out, right?

Although this is more like an accidental detective story, with The Dude (Jeff Bridges) drawn into a fake kidnapping scheme and doing everything he can to get back to his normal routine blazing up, hitting the bowling alley and immersing himself in the serenity of the lanes. It doesn’t help that his blowhard bestie Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) is hell bent on attacking everything in sight.

So The Dude stumbles through the plot (and life) like a Christ-figure for the modern slacker, sinning for the rest of us and not really giving a crap. Except he cares about his rug, which really ties the room together. And maybe his car, which is pretty thoroughly trashed during the movie.

Is there a deeper meaning to all this? Have the Coens crafted a parable for our two-party system, drawing a line between Walter’s aggressive style and The Dude’s laid-back diplomacy, with their meek pal Donny (Steve Buscemi) serving as the everyman caught in the middle? Is it just a bowling-is-life metaphor, a game of strikes and gutters, ups and downs?

Does it matter?

Maybe there isn’t much of a point beyond embracing the film’s infectious let-it-ride attitude, eminently quotable dialogue, soulful soundtrack and a population of characters who exist in their own little universe all kind of colliding with each other in one big stream-of-consciousness hotbox for the audience to inhale.

As for the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, the gift set comes in a miniature bowling-ball bag with a nifty miniature bowling-ball pencil holder (the holes in the ball being for the pencils, obviously). Also cool is a glasses polishing cloth styled after The Dude’s rug. The disc case itself comes in a knitted “cozy” based on The Dude’s iconic sweater, which is a nice touch if a bit impractical (the disc case is the same as the standalone 4K Blu-ray combo pack).

The 4K disc contains no bonus materials, which are all on the regular Blu-ray included with the combo pack. That standard Blu-ray is a repackaging of the same disc that was first released in 2011, which itself was a high-def version of the old 10th anniversary DVD. As such, it carries over most of the old extras, such as the tongue-in-cheek intro from a fake film preservationist, a few making-of retrospectives, a video about Jeff Bridges’ on-set photography, and a profile of the annual Lebowski Fest confab.

The Blu-ray also includes an in-movie scorecard for the various Dudeisms and curse words spouted throughout the film; pop-up information for the music as it plays during the movie; and a tame picture-in-picture mode with footage that looks like it was taken from the 10th anniversary interviews. While it would be cool for all these to play out at the same time, they’re on separate tracks so you can only pick one at a time.

You can also play the film with a trivia mode and play against a friend in shouting out the next line of dialogue during certain scenes, though the choice points don’t seem to come up as often as you’d expect.

Not that it matters, since this isn’t really a movie that ever embraced expectations, right? And that, at its core, is what makes The Big Lebowski so special. The Dude abides in any format.

‘The Big Lebowski’ to Abide With Release on 4K UHD Oct. 16 From Universal

The Big Lebowski 20th Anniversary Limited Edition will come out in a 4K Ultra combo pack that also includes Blu-ray and digital (including Movies Anywhere) Oct. 16 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

The Coen brothers crime-comedy, starring Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart, True Grit), John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane, Argo), Julianne Moore (The Hours, Still Alice), Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Ghost World), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master, Capote) and John Turturro (Barton Fink, Fading Gigolo), will be released in a set that includes a collectible bag, bowling ball pencil holder, polishing cloth and sweater packaging.

Bonus features include “The Dude’s Life,” in which Bridges, Goodman, Moore, Buscemi and Turturro take a look back at their performances and how their delivery of the Coen brothers’ dialog became classic movie lines; “The Dude Abides: The Big Lebowski Ten Years Later,” a conversation with the cast about the film’s decade-long reign as a cult classic; “Making of The Big Lebowski”; “The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever’s Story,” an in-depth look at the annual Lebowski Fest, a celebration of The Dude and his world, attended by thousands each year; “Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams: The Dream Sequences of The Dude,” a look at some of the Dude’s trippiest fantasies so fans can learn for the first time how these  scenes were created; an interactive map of the locations of The Big Lebowski, then and now; “Jeff Bridges Photo Book,” in which Bridges presents a portfolio of shots taken on the set of The Big Lebowski; and a photo gallery.