DVD/Blu-rays of the week: DOUBLE INDEMNITY and THE LOST WEEKEND
An unprecedented double pick here, but a necessary one, as this is unquestionably one of the great Masters of Cinema’s best release days ever, even better than the triple-header of TWO LANE BLACKTOP/LE SILENCE DE LA MER/PUNISHMENT PARK earlier in the year.
Two early films from Billy Wilder, one of the greatest Hollywood directors of all time, DOUBLE INDEMNITY and THE LOST WEEKEND are totally reinviograted on blu-ray, with remarkable picture quality anda selection of wonderful, well-chosen extras.
THE LOST WEEKEND is a remarkable study of alcoholism that shocked contemporary audiences in its graphic portrayal of addiction, and remains surprisingly effective today. Wilder’s trademark aversion to sentimentality means there is no sheen applied to the difficult subject matter, and some sequences – including the famous scene where Ray Milland hallucinates that his apartment is infested with warring birds and rats – are appropriately nightmarish.
It is so relentless in its assertion that booze is A Bad Thing that it occasionally threatens to turn into anti-alchohol propaganda, and for all intents and purposes that is what it is. But this is so much more than a cautionary after-school special, with huge amounts to admire - Wilder’s precise, unfussy direction; his darkly comic script co-written with Charles Brackett; and John F Seitz’s beautiful monochromatic photography, held together by the centrifugal force of Milland’s towering lead performance.
THE LOST WEEKEND was made at least partly in response to Wilder’s experiences working with Raymond Chandler, a committed alchoholic, on DOUBLE INDEMNITY, an adaptation of a James M Cain novella and the second Wilder film out on Blu this week. A film that managed to define and perfect the concept of film noir in its 100 minutes, it is amongst the very best crime films ever made, and unquestionably has the best dialogue of any of them – “That’s a honey of an anklet you’re wearing, Mrs Dietrichson…”
There are few more electrifying scenes than Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray’s first meeting, as they exchange flirtatious repartee with the lascivious, hard-bitten gusto. Both actors are incredible, but the film is arguably stolen by the original Chief Wiggum Edward G Robinson, as MacMurray’s trenchant, fast-talking investigator partner. Special mention must also got to John F Seitz again, for creating a shadowy world that remains a template background for drink-sodden schemes and mendacious dames to this day.
Both films come with excellent extras – DOUBLE INDEMNITY has a lengthy, informative documentary with contributions from the likes of James Ellroy, while THE LOST WEEKEND features a brief Alex Cox intro and an excellent three part Arena documentary on Wilder. Both films also feature the added curios of contemporary radio play versions of the films, with the original actors reprising their roles.
Two absolutely fantastic releases, then, and clearly the highlight of an amazing film week in DVD/Blu-ray. I thoroughly recommend clicking below to have them in your life.
I made my thoughts clear on Metrodome’s shocking theatrical release in my original review just a few weeks ago here, and it really is appalling how badly it got buried. However, that’s no reason to not buy the Blu, as it’s still a wonderful film and deserving of your support in any medium.
Cool, here we go:
“So then the father shits into his wife’s mouth, while the brother and sister fornicate in the corner, and all the while they’re singer Deutschland Uber Alles…”
Oh, THE ARISTOCATS. My apologies.
A DANGEROUS METHOD
Garbage, but Knightley’s bizarre performance needs to be seen to be believed. My review here.
I adore this film. One of my favourites of the year, no question. I’d like to do a longer review for it but I haven’t had a chance to catch up with it since seeing it at the cinema. Diablo Cody disclaimer: I thoroughly disliked JUNO, am yet to see JENNIFER’S BODY, but I loved this dearly. Can’t wait to see it again.
KING OF NEW YORK
Another classic from one of my favourite low-budget auteurs, Abel Ferrera. Brilliantly nihilistic, with memorably bugnuts performances from Walken as the white Frank White, Wesley Snipes and (particularly) Laurence Fishburne. It’s good to see this often overlooked gangster flick get recognized, as it’s still a hugely entertaining little piece of nastiness. Now how bout a MS 45 release?
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS - S1 BOXSET + MOVIE
Finally, a shout out to one of my favourite TV shows, which gets its first season re-released on DVD this week with the original Billy Bob Thornton-starring movie. The film is a very good, and way better than it needs to be sports movie, but the spin-off series manages to achieve genuine transcendence from its sporting underdog story origins. Of all the ‘great’ TV series to come out in the past decade – THE WIRE, THE SOPRANOS, BREAKING BAD – FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS feels like perhaps the most deeply felt, with superb writing, wonderful photography and uncannily brilliant, semi-improvised performances lending episodes an almost documentary-like realism: in particular, the core relationship between Coach and Tammy Taylor (Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton) that feels more authentic than just about any on-screen marriage you care to name.
It seems almost clichéd to say that you don’t need to care about American football to enjoy it – I don’t, and I do, incidentally – but I’ll say it anyway, because this is a series that is tragically under-seen in the UK and I'll do whatever it takes to bully people into watching it . It’s an intelligent, moving, sincere, rewarding masterpiece. SEE IT.
Here we have a film that is such a cocktail of egregiously crass elements that any kind of attempt at a seriously critical analysis is going to be doomed to fail. It’s as pointless as wagging a finger at a puppy as it shits on your coffee table – he’s just going to keep smiling at you, so you may as well stop wasting time and start clearing it up, while perhaps taking a quiet moment to respect his moronic audacity. There’s only one review you need of ROCK OF AGES, and it’s this: it’s a hair-metal musical. And it is almost exactly what you’re picturing.
All told, I quite enjoyed it, partly because I have no attachment to the music whatsoever, so I have no problem with the music being supposedly bastardised in this fashion. In fact, I find the idea of a hardcore Poison fan coming out of it shaking with rage at how “Pour Some Sugar On Me” has been appropriated by the film-makers pretty funny. Also: the idea of a hardcore Poison fan. All the music in ROCK OF AGES was written by people for whom artistic integrity lagged far behind blowjobs, money, hair, blowjobs, money, and blowjobs on their list of concerns, so a musical seems about the right place for it.
Also, I get the feeling that watching ROCK OF AGES in the cinema is a much more enjoyable experience than seeing it in the West End would be. I can’t quite tell you why I think this is the case, having not seen it on stage but I think it might be because everyone in the film version seems to be hugely enjoying themselves, in a way that isn’t always the case in musical theatre, where in my experience an air of quiet desperation isn’t unheard of.
The likes of Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, Russell Brand et al don’t have to do nine performances of this week, nor do they particularly have anything to prove, and you can sense throughout that they’re hugely enjoying themselves, turning in outrageous performances that are campier than a dozen Glastonburys. Obvious enthusiasm like this goes a long way, as it manages to sustain the film through some otherwise extremely dodgy moments.
You’ll notice I didn’t include Tom Cruise in that list of fun actors, and it’s because his scenes are in my opinion probably the weakest part of the film. It’s the same reason I didn’t like him particularly in TROPIC THUNDER – the film-makers are so in love with the idea of Tom Cruise being weird that the film slows down entirely whenever he's on screen in order to accommodate his weird excesses. It's an indulgent performance from Cruise, but the writers and director are just as much to blame for assuming that playing off up his name and reputation alone will be enough to engage audiences.
He at least looks the part, with his weathered Iggy Pop abs and crotch-led posture, but the illusion falls apart when he starts singing, with a voice that’s too reedy to sell us on the idea that he’s a rock god, even in a film as patently ridiculous as this one.
Speaking of crotches, this film is one of the most lascivious 12A’s you will ever see, with a non-stop onslaught of leering, panting, thrusting, licking, gyrating, snogging , sucking and pounding that is frankly exhausting. I can only be thankful that it isn’t in 3D, as the experience is close enough to being visually dry-humped for two hours as it is.
Oh yeah – it’s two hours, which is way too long for a film like this. There’s an extended ‘downer’ sequence, where the male lead is forced to work in a boy band (funny) and the female lead seeks empowerment working as a stripper (erm) that goes on for rockin’ ages, and delay the inevitable feel-good finale for much longer than is necessary.
Despite its many, many, many failings, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there is fun to be had in ROCK OF AGES. It’s so awe-inspiringly lightweight and dumb that it does manage to exude a degree of silly charm, and if you’re in the right mood, you’ll find yourself being taken along by it. If you don’t own a puppy, or alternatively just have a really nice coffee table, I’d highly recommend it.
Apologies for the brevity of this week’s DVD column, but due to a paucity of good releases and a heavy workload it’s the best you’re going to get.
DVD/Blu-ray of the week: THE MUPPETS
As if I wasn’t going to pick this. A genuinely hilarious, touching, brilliantly judged nostalgia trip for Muppet Show snobs and puppet proletariat alike, it’s the best family film since TOY STORY 3. And the songs are great.
THE INNKEEPERS is out today, apparently. Not that you’d know, as according to my hasty research it’s only playing in one cinema in London – once a night at the Empire Leicester Square – and a handful of others across the UK, with no showings at all in Bristol, Liverpool, Cardiff, Leeds, or Newcastle.
It’s a criminally small number of screens, and it’s becoming a depressingly familiar release strategy – have a arbitrary theatrical run, then concentrate on hasty DVD/Blu-ray release which comes straight after (THE INNKEEPERS is out on DVD on the 25th June). It’s particularly sad in the case of THE INNKEEPERS, as more than most films I’ve seen in recent memory it deserves to be seen with an appreciative audience.
And it’s already played to appreciative audiences in UK – it premiered at FrightFest last year to great acclaim, and the Cigarette Burns preview screening last month was also a huge success. Reviews have been, on the whole, excellent. So why have Metrodome not really pushed this in the way, say, INSIDIOUS was last year?
Enough babbling about distribution – the main reason you need to see THE INNKEEPERS in a cinema is because it’s genuinely scary in a way few modern horror films actually are, and films are always scarier watched in the dark with strangers.
Directed by the fiercely talented Ti West, THE INNKEEPERS is a classic haunted house story with a thick streak of psychological horror, carrying on in the rich tradition of the likes of THE INNOCENTS and THE SHINING. Two twenty-something wage-slaves, Claire (Sarah Paxton) Luke (Pat Healy), work in the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a soon-to-be demolished hotel rumored to be haunted by the ghost of Madeline O’Malleya young woman who hung herself in the basement.
Luke claims to have previously encountered her roaming around, and runs a website dedicated to the search for evidence for her; all while the dorky, awkward Claire stews, lamenting her the lack of excitement in her life and desperately poking around the creaky hotel during her nightshifts in search of O’Malley.
Sure enough things start getting progressively spookier, and if you’ve seen Ti West’s other movies you’ll recognize what’s come to be refered to as his ‘slow-burn’ style. I’ve heard and read a couple of critics complain that THE INNKEEPERS is lethargically slow, with “nothing happening’, but I genuinely don’t undertand what West is supposed to do: the fact is that ghosts, in and of themselves, really aren’t that scary-looking, so it’s not as if there’s much in the way of horrific imagery that West can fill the film with.
So he does what he does best, which is engender incredible amounts of tension and suspense before they arrive. There’s a scene when the pair head into the basement where O’Malley hung herself that is a masterclass in how to toy with audience expectations and wring every drop of terror out of a very basic, rote, ‘don’t go down the steps’ scenario.
He really is impressive, and his work here is just as good as it was in the brilliant HOUSE OF THE DEVIL – his use of framing, sound, camera movement and editing is masterfully controlled, and his skill in putting these sequences together is so obvious that this is work that actually deserves the of-bandied around description label of ‘Hitchcockian’.
Apparently this isn’t enough for some people not to deem these boring, but if refusing to fill the film with cheap loud soundtrack scares (with one deliberately amusing exception) is a bad thing then I’m clearly on the wrong side of the fence in this debate.
West can do humour almost as well – the opening half of the film is filled with so many funny moments that it’s tempting to call THE INNKEEPERS a horror-comedy. There’s a moment involving Claire, a binbag and a skip that is both really well-observed and one of the best pieces of physical comedy I’ve seen in a film in a long while.
It’s also so great to see a horror film with such great, well-rounded characters: the surprisingly complex central relationship dynamic between Luke and Sarah is wonderfully written and portrayed, with Sarah Paxton more genuinely adorkable than a dozen Deschanels and Pat Healy providing a deadpan snarkers for the ages. Kelly McGillis also provides great, ‘who-knew?’ support as a creepy mystic, and there’s some very nice use of practical make-up and effects.
It’s overall a very well-constructed film, with ideas and thematic ambitions that surpass 95% of modern horror movies – the oppressive, desperate nature of living a ‘pink-collar’ existence during a recession is nicely drawn without ever linking the film back to the current economic climate in away that feels forced or over-played.
I had a fantastic time with THE INNKEEPERS – along with THE CABIN IN THE WOODS it’s the best horror film I’ve seen this year, and I’d implore you to go out and see it on the big screen however you can.