Top picks: Classic
Man Of The West (Kino Lorber)
Anthony Mann began his career making low-budget noirs and ended it as a director of three-hour roadshow epics; in between those two phases, he made his best films, intense Greek-tragedy Westerns that—along with Budd Boetticher’s Ranown cycle and the best of John Ford—represent the high-water mark of both the American oater and mid-20th century popular art. This is Mann’s final foray into the genre (the frontier-set Cimarron is usually grouped with the epics), and it’s downright Shakespearean in the way it handles the story of a seemingly mild-mannered ex-outlaw (Gary Cooper) rejoining his old gang.
The Leopard (Criterion)
Luchino Visconti—born into the Milanese House Of Visconti and styled Count Of Lonate Pozzolo—was both an ardent Communist and a bona fide nobleman, which helps explain why The Leopard, his sweeping portrait of the decline of the aristocracy, is both one of the least sentimentalized and one of the most authentic treatments of the subject. Unlike many of Criterion’s recent Blu-ray upgrades, this version does not look substantially different from its earlier standard-def release.
Other classic releases
Written in the late 1940s by the great Welsh writer and poet Dylan Thomas, The Doctor And The Devils (Shout! Factory) was, for decades, considered to be the greatest of all unproduced screenplays. The film that finally got made in 1985—rewritten by TV vet Ronald Harwood and directed by cinematographer Freddie Francis (The Innocents, The Elephant Man)—may lack the complexity and poetry of Thomas’ original vision, but it’s got a lot going for it, not the least of which are its squalid sense of atmosphere and a superb cast that includes Timothy Dalton, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Rea, and Patrick Stewart.
I.A.L. Diamond was, unquestionably, one of the great American comedy screenwriters, but he also had the benefit of regularly working with Billy Wilder. Cactus Flower (Sony) is an object lesson in the importance of direction in comedy; it has a Diamond script and a strong cast—Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman, Goldie Hawn—but flops around like a wet noodle under the non-direction of Neil Simon specialist Gene Saks. Of course, it’s always possible to do worse; the film was remade by Dennis Dugan as Just Go With It, with Adam Sandler, Jennifer Anniston, and Brooklyn Decker filling the Matthau, Bergman, and Hawn roles, respectively. Masochists who enjoy watching terrible movies made by comic geniuses can also pick up Don’t Raise The Bridge, Lower The River (Sony), a pretty bad British-made Jerry Lewis flick from 1968.
Shout! Factory digs up the full runs of two black-and-white syndication staples: The Phil Silvers Show (more popularly known, and more prominently billed on Shout!’s packaging, as Sgt. Bilko) and M Squad. The former made a household name out of one-time contract player Silvers, giving him a signature character in the form of scheming Army Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko; the latter was a cop-show star vehicle for legendary tough guy Lee Marvin. Included as a bonus with M Squad is an episode of the proto-reality show Lee Marvin Presents Lawbreaker, which helped pave the way for America’s Most Wanted, Cops, and the true-crime fare parodied in Reno 911!: The Complete Series (Paramount). Created by and starring members of sketch-comedy legends The State, Reno 911! was heavily improvised, resulting in the nearly two hours of outtakes augmenting the 88 episodes collected here.
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Complete Case Collection (Acorn Media) features all 70 episodes of the long-running ITV series, which ended last year. As the eponymous Belgian detective, David Suchet is fine throughout, though the slick, opulent later entries sorely lack the charm of the series’ drizzly Art Deco early-1990s episodes, which benefited from the presence of Christopher Gunning’s eminently hummable theme music. Those who prefer their detectives animated and canine can pick up Sherlock Hound (Eastern Star); the eight-disc set includes the complete run of the Italian-Japanese steampunk series, six episodes of which were directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
Universal is releasing eight limited-edition steel books, presumably marketed toward people who buy Blu-rays purely for the cover art: John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London and The Blues Brothers; Edgar Wright’s Shaun Of The Dead and Scott Pilgrim Versus The World; some movie called Psycho; the Coens’ The Big Lebowski; Terry Gilliam’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas; and Brian De Palma’s Scarface, a major influence on the unlicensed XL T-shirt and beach-towel industries. Meanwhile, Amazon is hawking an “exclusive” 10-disc Blu-ray called Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection (Warner Bros.).
Also out this week: Louis Malle’s armed-revolution farce Viva Maria! (Kino Lorber), which stars Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau and isn’t very good; the 1984 documentary Tosca’s Kiss (Icarus), about a retirement home for opera singers; Return To The Blue Lagoon (Sony), which was Milla Jovovich’s first big-screen starring role; the 1955 adaptation of The End Of The Affair (Sony), directed by Edward Dmytryk; and, finally, Richard Burton’s very loud, very 1967 take on Doctor Faustus (Sony).
Top picks: Catch-up
A Most Wanted Man (Lionsgate)
Anton Corbijn’s subdued John Le Carré adaptation turned out to be Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final starring role. “What resonates, in this smart but minor procedural, isn’t the harsh vision of a post-9/11 world, but the unglamorous depiction of governmental grunt work,” wrote our own A.A. Dowd in his review. “Hoffman, slumping with defeat when not using his weight as a weapon, locates the tragedy of his disheartened hero.”
The Dog (Cinedigm)
Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren’s documentary profiles John Wojtowicz, whose attempted hold-up of a Brooklyn bank inspired Dog Day Afternoon. “As a portrait of a life lived strangely—and if you asked its subject, perfectly, with no regrets—The Dog is charming,” wrote Josh Modell in his review. “Still, there’s a nagging sense of darkness and obsessiveness here that’s only hinted at.”
Other catch-up releases
Barely screened for critics and barely seen by audiences, Hercules (Paramount) is a half-hearted, but largely admirable, attempt at creating a revisionist take on the toga movie, with the supernatural elements confined to dream sequences and silhouettes. Dwayne Johnson makes for a perfect movie-star Hercules, and Brett Ratner’s direction of the action sequences is surprisingly fine.
Speaking of half-hearted revisions: Maleficent (Disney), longtime production designer Robert Stromberg’s lavish re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty, adds some interesting feminist tweaks to the material, but never feels of a piece. Still, it’s pretty to look at, full of colorful effects, Pre-Raphaelite lighting schemes, and implausible digital landscapes, which combine the perspective of matte paintings with the depth and texture of physical sets.
Exhibition (Kino Lorber), the latest from British writer-director Joanna Hogg, observes an artist couple who’ve decided to sell their fancy modernist house. Hogg’s static, long-take direction can err on the side of aloofness, but she’s also a careful observer of behavior.
The One I Love (Anchor Bay) is an indie not-quite-comedy with a tricky, high-concept hook. “Freaky occurrences in fantastic tales are almost always best left mysterious,” writes Mike D’Angelo in his B- review, noting that the movie’s eventual explanation of said hush-hush premise “raises a ton of practical questions that undermine what had been the film’s primary theme.” Those who prefer their high-concept premises more low-brow can subject themselves to Premature (MPI), which is kind of like Groundhog Day, only with ejaculation.