A cruise line executive gets a phone call. The voice on the other end calmly tells him that one of his company’s ships has been rigged with a bomb, which will explode unless a ransom is paid. The crew is informed, a bomb disposal team is assembled, and Scotland Yard begins hunting for the perpetrator. This is the setup for Juggernaut, a routine 1974 potboiler rendered tense and unpredictable by Richard Lester’s jagged, off-beat direction and typically disorienting sound design. This has been a good year for the long-retired filmmaker, with Criterion reissuing his seminal Beatles flick, A Hard’s Day Night, and Stuart Murdoch’s Lester-indebted musical God Help The Girl hitting theaters. If you’re wondering how Lester became a hero for problem-solving filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh, look no further than this gripping, de-centered gem. Also out this week is Lester’s 1966 adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical farce A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum; unlike Juggernaut, which Lester re-wrote from top to bottom, it never quite manages to transcend the Broadway staginess of its source material, though not for lack of trying.
The best of Fritz Lang’s three anti-Nazi films, this 1942 thriller—a fictionalized account of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by Czech resistance fighters—represents a once-in-a-blue-moon meeting of talents, with a script cowritten by Bertolt Brecht, camerawork by James Wong Howe, and music and arrangements by Brecht’s longtime collaborator, Hanns Eisler. The film’s seamless blend of expressionist imagery, expertly crafted suspense, and old-fashioned lefty populism is best encapsulated by its famous movie theater sequence, in which news of Heydrich’s death spreads through the audience, which eventually erupts in spontaneous applause; as audience members whisper among themselves, Bedřich Smetana’s “The Moldau” swells on the soundtrack and the camera cranes up and down, creating the illusion of an undulating wave of human figures framed against the movie screen.
Kino Lorber’s slate for the week consists of two not-quite-blaxploitation movies from the early 1970s: the Yaphet Kotto/Anthony Quinn team-up Across 110th Street, notable for its use extensive handheld location shooting, which was made possible by Arriflex’s then-new 35BL camera; and Ossie Davis’ Chester Himes adaptation Cotton Comes To Harlem, which benefits greatly from the casting of Raymond St. Jacques and Godfrey Cambridge as Himes’ Harlem detectives, Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones.
The week is packed with scuzzy exploitation releases, including: Pasquale Festa Campanile’s BDSM comedy The Slave (Mondo Macabro); Mario Gariazzo’s 1987 thriller Top Model (One 7 Movies), which stars Florence Guérin and is probably only of interest to viewers who already know who Florence Guérin is; and Prince Of The Night (One 7 Movies), an unauthorized sequel to Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu The Vampyre—complete with original star Klaus Kinski—that is better known by the titles Nosferatu In Venice and Vampire In Venice.
For those who prefer cheesy movie sex of the hardcore variety come three new releases from the archive diggers over at Vinegar Syndrome: the XXX World War II “epic” Prisoner Of Paradise, starring John Holmes and Seka; the Mai Lin double feature Mai Lin Vs Serena / Oriental Hawaii; and Cry For Cindy / Touch Me / Act Of Confession, which collects three films by Anthony Spinelli, one of the greats of the Golden Age of American porn.
Universal re-released its best-known classic monster movies on Blu-ray last week, both as individual releases and in themed packages. (The largest of these—the 21-disc, DVD-only Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection—also includes the Abbott And Costello Meet spin-offs, as well as obscurities like She-Wolf Of London and the wartime propaganda flick Invisible Agent.) The must-haves of the bunch are the gorgeous new transfers of James Whale’s sublime 1931 Frankenstein, and his even-better sequel, The Bride Of Frankenstein—a surreal, borderline-postmodern horror-comedy that also happens to be one of the greatest movies ever made.
God’s Pocket (MPI)
Adapted from Peter Dexter’s first novel, John Slattery’s feature directing debut is a Sidney Lumet-indebted dark comedy about a neighborhood of working-class lowlifes and fuck-ups reacting to the death of one of their own. John Turturro, Eddie Marsan, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman are among the knuckleheads worming their way around the bars, funeral parlors, and back alleys of God’s Pocket; the fine-tuned character work of the cast is complemented by the shadowy camerawork of onetime next-big-thing cinematographer Lance Acord (Lost In Translation), whose work on the film marks his first feature credit in five years.
Alex Van Warmerdam’s whatsit thriller Borgman (New Video Group) may not live up to the promise of its opening sequence—in which a bearded, subterranean-dwelling vagrant is chased out of a village by a small band armed with spears and shotguns—but there’s enough cryptic, quasi-supernatural intrigue to sustain viewer interest for two hours. As in earlier Van Warmerdam movies like The Northerners and The Last Days Of Emma Blank, the broadness of the characterizations is somewhat offset by the grotesque details of plot.
It’s a big week for new black-and-white movies, with Alexander Payne’s much-fêted Nebraska (Paramount) hitting Blu-ray alongside Pawel Pawlikowski’s surprise sleeper Ida (Music Box). It’s also a big week for movies with Words in the title, with Words And Pictures (Lionsgate), starring Clive Owen, and Louder Than Words (Arc), starring David Duchovny, poised to confuse blind-buyers who like dramas about tall white men. Parkour fans, in the meantime, will find themselves having to decide between the District B13 remake Brick Mansions (20th Century Fox) and a little movie called Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Disney).
Also out this week: Palo Alto (Peace Arch Trinity), an adaptation of a collection of James Franco short stories that benefits, however modestly, from first-time director Gia Coppola’s Gus Van Sant-influenced sense of visual composition; Bobcat Goldthwait’s found-footage Bigfoot movie Willow Creek (Dark Sky); and the illegal immigration doc Who Is Dayani Cristal? (Kino Lorber).