This week on home video, there were a lot of straight-to-DVD releases. So many, in fact, that you’d have to wade through a sea of them to find anything really notable to mention here. As such, we’re limiting our choices to the newest releases that also saw theater time, as well as two brand new Criterion editions from a legendary filmmaking duo (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger). Strap yourselves in for this short ride and see if there’s anything this week that might make it into your library.
As much a triumph of marketing as a notch in the headstone of Glam Rock, The Runaways were a girlband of indecent and hardcore proportions. Shepherded by Kim Fowley, a manager people love to call “svengali-like,” they rocked this “jailbait” aesthetic for all it was worth, and transformed the idea of girl-power into a marketable, sexable, underaged product. For that reason, among others, the story hadn’t received screen treatment sooner. Debut director Floria Sigismondi takes this subject personally and brings the stories of Cherie Currie (lead singer and writer of the biography upon which the film is based), Joan Jett, and manager Fowley into a uniquely nostalgic tale. Stars Dakota Fanning (as Currie) and Kristen Stewart (as Jett) supply as much good-girl-gone-wrong as possible and the impossibly talented Michael Shannon (Shotgun Stories, Revolutionary Road brings the skank. DVD extras include a commentary track with Joan Jett (the real one!), and stars Fanning and Stewart.
Near the beginning of this summer, audiences were treated to a loud, explosive action movie about a band of rogue Special Forces soldiers who were forsaken by the government and whose mission it became to track down and confront the villain who set them up. Wait, hold on… It appears that there were actually TWO movies out this summer with this plot, so let’s clarify a bit here: we’re talking about The Losers, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), Zoe Saldana (Star Trek, Avatar), Chris Evans (The Fantastic Four), and Idris Elba (RocknRolla) — not exactly star-studded, but not a terrible cast, either. The film was helmed by Sylvain White, who’s only other directorial credits have been I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer and Stomp the Yard, so obviously something like The Losers was right up his alley… In all seriousness, though, critics didn’t think the film was all bad, citing its humor and strong performances as key strengths, even despite its unrelenting violence and over-the-top action clichés. It’s not going to win any Oscars, but if you’re looking for a popcorn-popping romp, this’ll probably liven up your evening.
Kevin Smith burst upon the indie movie scene in 1994 with the cult hit Clerks and followed up the next year with the similarly themed Mallrats. Folks began to take notice, and Smith treated them to the likes of 1997’s Chasing Amy and 1999’s Dogma, exploring heady issues like friendship, loyalty, sexuality, and religion (with a poop monster thrown in for good measure, of course). So it makes a lot of sense that this indie darling, known for his knack for witty banter and complex rant-filled dialogue, would hit the big screen hard with… a super silly buddy cop comedy starring Bruce “Yippie-Ki-Yay-Motherf***er” Willis and Tracy “Somebody-Gon-Get-Pregnant” Morgan. Smith has had bombs (Jersey Girl, anyone?) before, to be sure, but Cop Out is his worst-rated effort by far, and it may be the most convincing argument against him taking on a project somewhat outside his wheelhouse, so to speak. Despite its experienced cast, which includes Seann William Scott, Adam Brody, Rashida Jones, and regular Smith collaborator Jason Lee, the film never manages to excel beyond its action-comedy clichés and dismal pacing, which earned it no higher than a 19% on the Tomatometer. If watching John McClane get kicked in the nethers by a child is your kind of fun, though, pick this one up and have yourself a ball.
Bong-Joon Ho made his name in the States with The Host, a comical family melodrama about a people-stealing monster and the family that it (literally) eats alive. Bong’s horror was plenty pointed but always skated towards the absurd-which made for as many belly laughs as shocked screams-and played easily to an international audience. Mother is sly and just as scary as The Host but with in-jokes and inversions that set you (and keep you) on edge. Did I mention it’s funny? There’s a part when the son (played by Korean action star Bin Won) tries to kick the side view mirror off a car and falls down. It’s hilarious…if you know he’s an action star; most Americans don’t. Mother‘s protagonist, Hye-Ja Kim (who has no name other than “Mother” in the film) made her acting career playing idealized mothers on Korean TV. Here, she’s an overbearing worrywart who’s certain she’s responsible for her son’s “slowness” and, when he’s accused of murdering a local girl, stops at nothing to prove his innocence — or makes him innocent by eliminating evidence. The film does an incredible job managing the comic and the monstrous, and what’s family if not a stage for horror that could kill you (if you don’t laugh at it)? The DVD includes multiple interview featurettes with actors and crew, including the star, the cinematographer, the composer and the DP, along with a 90 minute making-of.
Cinephiles are in for a double bill from movie heaven this week, as Criterion unveils its brand new DVD and Blu-ray editions of two Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger classics that capture the filmmaking team at the peak of their Technicolor form. Adapted from Rumer Godden’s novel, 1947’s Black Narcissus tells the story of a group of Anglican nuns — led by Deborah Kerr’s Sister Clodagh — who establish a convent in the remote Himalayas to set up a school. Forbidden desires are conjured, however, with the arrival of the swarthy British liaison Mr. Dean (David Farrar), leading to much repressed swooning and one epic nun flight atop a precarious mountain. Fans of old-school filmmaking technique will relish Powell and Pressburger’s use of matte paintings and miniatures — the Himalayan ranges were in fact exquisitely constructed models — that give the movie a look unlike anything you’d see today (and which CGI could never quite replicate). The hyper-real backdrops and Technicolor saturation help heighten the story’s melodrama, while Kerr gives a superb performance as Sister Superior. “Powell’s equally extravagant visual style transforms it into a landscape of the mind,” noted the Chicago Reader’s Dave Kehr, “grand and terrible in its thorough abstraction.” The restored Criterion edition has an audio commentary and three documentaries, plus extensive liner notes.
When Martin Scorsese labels a film one of his all-time favorites, it’s time to sit up and take notice. The director was personally involved in overseeing the restoration of Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes for its 2009 showing at Cannes, and the love that has gone into the retouching of the film is palpable. Arguably Powell and Pressburger’s — if not post-war cinema’s — high water mark, The Red Shoes is loosely adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen story, which serves as the basis for the ballet being performed in the film. Fledgling dancer Vicki (Moira Shearer) is taken under the wing of arch choreographer Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook, magnificently camp), but she must choose between her destiny to dance the ballet or fall in love — the latter scorned by Lermontov, to whom the dance is everything. Put simply, The Red Shoes is a masterpiece: it’s both dramatic and whimsical, moving and completely surreal. The film’s centerpiece, a 20-odd-minute ballet turned dreamscape, is something to behold; in its movement you can see half a century of cinematic inspiration. As the Independent’s Anthony Quinn put it: “It has a quicksilver grace and variation of mood unlike anything else you’ve seen.” This edition, featuring the restored print, is introduced by Scorsese and features a gallery of his collection from the film, plus audio commentary, documentaries and liner notes.
Written by Luke Goodsell, Sara Vizcarrondo, and Ryan Fujitani