Top Pick: Classic
Roman Polanski’s bleak, somewhat lurid 1971 take on The Scottish Play—the first film he produced after the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, at the hands of the Manson Family—is about as personal as Shakespeare adaptations get. Polanski and his co-writer, theater critic Kenneth Tynan, twist the text into a loop, turning a tragedy into an endless cycle of violence and usurped power; when one killer dies, another will come and take his place. The new transfer, approved by Polanski, has a noticeably chillier color palette than previous digital and DVD releases.
Other classic releases
The Florida-set Western Distant Drums (Olive Films) is far from Raoul Walsh’s best work, though it contains some typically first-rate action, including a climactic underwater showdown that finds Gary Cooper, knife clenched between his teeth, struggling with a Seminole fighter while the surface above reflects their bodies like a mirrored ceiling. Incidentally, the long-running sound design in-joke known as the Wilhelm Scream originated in Distant Drums; the distinctive yelp—performed by cast member Sheb Wooley, of “Purple People Eater” sort-of-fame—was recorded for a scene where a man gets eaten by an alligator.
Roger Corman’s sleazy, spirited hothouse take on the Barker-Karpis Gang, Bloody Mama (Kino Lorber), imagines the Great Depression’s most mythologized outlaw family as a cross between a comic strip and a community theater’s interpretation of Tennessee Williams.
Those looking to get their Burt Lancaster on can choose between Robert Wise’s submarine thriller Run Silent Run Deep (Kino Lorber), John Frankenheimer’s law and order drama Young Savages (Kino Lorber), or Richard Brooks’ Sinclair Lewis adaptation Elmer Gantry (Kino Lorber), which won its star an Oscar. The deep-pocketed—or sickeningly Lancaster-addicted—can pick up all three. Also out this week from Kino: the very unlikely Gogol adaptation Taras Bulba (Kino Lorber), helmed by J. Lee Thompson, the director behind many of Charles Bronson’s best movies. (This writer has a particular weakness for the final Thompson-Bronson flick, Kinjite: Forbidden Subject.)
Speaking of Charles Bronson collaborators, there’s the 1978 remake of The Big Sleep (Shout! Factory), which stars Robert Mitchum—who previously played Philip Marlowe in the more memorable and eccentric Farewell, My Lovely—and was directed by the thoroughly awful Michael Winner.
Halloween: The Complete Collection (Anchor Bay) collects all of the Halloween films—the good as well as the bad, the Carpenter-derived original series as well as the Rob Zombies. All of the transfers are based on previous Blu-ray releases, so expect a big difference in quality from disc to disc. Regardless of whether you’re thinking of picking up the set or not, you’d be remiss not to read our own A.A. Dowd’s guide to the series.
It being almost October, the horror releases have started trickling in. Besides the Halloween set, there’s Michele Soavi’s loony post-giallo debut Stage Fright (Blue Underground)—in which a theater is terrorized by a killer in a surreal and very impractical owl costume—and The Innocents (Criterion), Jack Clayton’s tony 1961 adaptation of The Turn Of The Screw. The latter benefits from some excellent black-and-white light-and-lens work from Freddie Francis (The Elephant Man).
Also out this week is South Of St. Louis (Olive), a minor, but accomplished, Joel McCrea Western from 1949. Directed by the reliable Ray Enright, the movie is distinguished by the surprisingly brutal, kinetic saloon brawl in its first reel, and the kind of narratively efficient, closely packed compositions that used to be the mark of a veteran director. Take a swig every time Enright starts a shot on a close-up detail—a spur, a discarded sign, a holstered gun—and then pans up to reveal a character, and you’ll be soused in no time.
Top picks: Catch-up
The Rover (Lionsgate)
David Michôd’s tight-lipped existentialist chase flick might be too monotonously grim for most tastes, but its vision of a world where no cares about right and wrong is nonetheless striking. Set in a post-apocalyptic Australia populated almost exclusively by dirty, sunburned men in dad shorts, the movie is sustained by effective performances from Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson (cast against type as a dim-witted American bandit) and Michôd’s immersive use of music; the soundtrack is heavy on Colin Stetson and Giacinto Scelsi, though it’s the eccentric use of Keri Hilson’s “Pretty Girl Rock” that stands out the most.
The Last Of The Unjust (Cohen)
Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah remains the definitive film about the Holocaust, and its methodology—which eschews archival footage, instead focusing on how the past lives on in the present—is a master class in how a filmmaker should deal with a subject so wide-ranging and horrifying. This documentary focuses on Benjamin Murmelstein (1905–1989), a collaborationist rabbi Lanzmann interviewed in 1975. Lanzmann organizes the film achronologically and self-reflexively; like Shoah itself, the film is complicated, engrossing, and deeply troubling.
Other catch-up releases
A kind of godfather to the Berlin School, the prolific German genre craftsman Dominik Graf has worked almost exclusively in TV for most his career, which is why none of his work has ever been released Stateside. Hopefully, In The Face Of Crime (MHz Networks)—a superb 2010 miniseries set in and around Berlin’s Russian underworld—marks the first of many Graf releases to come.
Lukas Moodysson’s ode to small-town punkhood, We Are The Best! (Magnolia), has earned the director his best reviews since Together. Is it time to reappraise Lilya 4-Ever and A Hole In My Heart? No, probably not.
Also out this week: the surprisingly popular comedy Neighbors (Universal), which this critic hopes will be misinterpreted by studios as proof of the star viability of the perennially underrated Zac Efron; the twist-heavy sci-fi flick The Signal (Universal); and Very Good Girls (Well Go), which stars Elizabeth Olsen and Dakota Fanning and whose title is meant to be interpreted ironically, which will come as a shock to blind buyers eager to see a movie that’s just 90 minutes of teenagers delivering Meals On Wheels and helping assorted grandmas cross the street.