April 27, 2010

The Fugitive Kind

Also this week: Disgrace, Ride with the Devil, Vivre sa vie, Smash Cut, I Love Lucy: The Movie, Traffic

Highlight of the Week

The Fugitive Kind (Criterion, E1) In Sydney Lumet’s brooding screen adaption of Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending, Marlon Brando plays a snakeskin-jacketed hothead on the road to self-improvement. En route, a middle-aged storekeeper hires him to help tend shop while her crusty older husband lays on his deathbed upstairs. Brando is superb, but Anna Magnani steals the show as the lonely soul who pulls at his wild heartstrings. This is clearly the heavyweight actors’ film, and it is an out-and-out stunner on that front. Stanley Kowalski, in A Streetcar Named Desire, is the definitive Brando performance of Williams’ work, but this is a follow-up worth catching. Extras: Criterion delivers big —a half-hour interview with Lumet, an overview of Williams’ Hollywood oeuvre and three one-act Williams plays directed by Lumet, one of which features a typically first-rate performance from Ben Gazarra. 
Also Available 
Disgrace (E1) Director Steve Jacobs and screenwriter wife Anna-Maria Monticelli supply a suitably anti-feel-good aura to their film version of Nobel Prize-winner J.M. Coetzee’s 1999 novel. John Malkovich gives his meatiest performance in years as an exiled Cape Town university prof who escapes to his daughter’s remote farm after engaging with a non-white student. It is not long before serenity is wiped out by harrowing violence that triggers the characters to respond to the country’s post-apartheid new social order. Everyone involved is a knockout, but prepare yourself for some morally challenging drama. Extras: making-of, interviews. 

Ride with the Devil
 (Criterion, E1) Ang Lee breathes new life into his all-but-forgotten Civil War odyssey by way of a lengthier cut and a few vital tweaks. Ride with the Devil occasionally loses its stride, but is an attractively mounted slow burn that offers a unique take on US history. On the disc’s sole interview, Jeffrey Wright (who plays a freed slave on the Confederate side) remarks that this was the last Civil War picture of the 20th century and a far cry from one of the first: Birth of a Nation. Other extras: two commentaries, one featuring Lee and producer/screenwriter James Schamus and another with the film’s DP, sound designer and production designer.

Vivre sa vie
 (Criterion, E1) An essential item in the French New Wave catalogue as well as one of Godard’s best (personal preference goes to Pierrot le fou), Vivre sa vie arrives on very deserving Criterion. Re-teaming with his muse and then-wife Anna Karina, this unorthodox portrayal of a doomed Parisian prostitute marked a game-changing evolution in the auteur’s output. Boasting breathtaking visuals shot by recurring collaborator Raoul Coutard, home theater high-enders are urged to re-experience Godard en bleu. Extras: scholar commentary, interviews aplenty, illuminating excerpts from vintage French television program on prostitution, more.   

Smash Cut
 (E1) An otherwise futile tribute to trash cinema, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter helm Lee Demarbre gets minor credit for inspired casting, and I’m not referring to porn princess Sasha Grey. Horror keeners should dig Last House on the Left kingpin David Hess as a failed filmmaker on the hunt for body parts to use as props for his magnum opus. Iconic cult actor Michael Berryman and legendary gore maestro Herschel Gordon Lewis also appear. As a last-resort midnight option, this gets a hesitant pass. Extras: director’s commentary, Sasha Grey diaries, more.

I Love Lucy: The Movie
 (Paramount) You might love Lucy in her recently unearthed feature that is actually three stitched-together first season episodes. Though featuring 12-minutes of fresh footage, the film never made it to cinemas but was eventually included in the series boxed set released a few years back. Individual season collectors who felt burned can now catch up with Ricky, Fred, Ethel and lovable Lucy in this standalone DVD that includes fab extras like a colourized episode, Lucy and Desi’s first joint TV appearance and more tasty rarities. 

Traffic (Alliance) Steven Soderbergh’s sprawling character juggler packs enormous punch 10 years on. Now you can see it in all its blue/tobacco-hued glory, courtesy of this Blu-ray re-release that gets it almost right the second time: transfer is much improved, but Criterion’s two-disc triumph still owns in the extras department. At any rate, just make sure you don’t accidentally pick up Alliance’s unimpressive 2009 Blu version.