From the Big Screen:
“Labor Day,” “Gloria,” “Devil’s Due” and “The Legend of Hercules.” For more information on these and other releases this week, see the Weekly Guide to Home Video Releases.
This Week’s Highlights:
“The Strange Woman” (1946), directed by B-movie genius Edgar G. Ulmer, is a wicked piece of melodramatic period noir set in the early 19th century about a beautiful woman from a dysfunctional family who discovers that her good looks, charm and strong will allows her to get what she wants from men, and she stops at nothing to control the ones who cross her path. As portrayed by the deliciously lovely Hedy Lamarr, Jenny Hager is a bundle of contradictions: evil and heartless as well as giving and vulnerable. She chases after her older husband’s good-looking son (and a childhood friend), played by Louis Hayward, while giving to the poor and standing up for a downtrodden fallen woman despised by the community. In good old-fashioned melodramatic style, Jenny rises from poverty to wealth only to be undone by her heart. Lamarr’s work ranks right up there with the best by Bette Davis or Joan Crawford. Ulmer’s direction is sparse yet, at times, foreboding and wild, and the script, by Herb Meadow (who went on to write for “Have Gun – Will Travel” as well as many other TV shows), has a sly critique of sexism and capitalism bubbling below the surface. The great Douglas Sirk directed the opening sequence with Jenny as a young girl. Co-stars Gene Lockhart, George Sanders and Hillary Brooke. Restored in HD from original 35mm film elements from Film Chest Media Group.
“Il sorpasso” (1962) is the ultimate Italian road comedy, starring the unlikely pair of Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant as, respectively, a waggish, free-wheeling bachelor and the bookish law student he takes on a madcap trip from Rome to rural Southern Italy. An unpredictable journey that careers from slapstick to tragedy, this film, directed by Dino Risi (the original “Scent of a Woman”), is a wildly entertaining commentary on the pleasures and consequences of the good life. A holy grail of commedia all’italiana, “Il sorpasso” is so fresh and exciting that one can easily see why it has long been adored in Italy. In a new 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, in a Blu-ray/two-DVD Dual Format Edition from The Criterion Collection.
Debuting on Blu-ray this week is “Sophie’s Choice (Collector’s Edition)” (1982), directed by Alan J Pakula and starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol. Adapted from William Styron’s best-selling novel, this passionate tale of a writer’s love for a holocaust survivor is an exhilarating and compelling revelation. Meryl Streep received an Academy Award for her portrayal of Sophie Zawistowska in this penetrating drama set in post-World War II Brooklyn. Kevin Kline plays her all-consuming lover, Nathan. The story revolves around Sophie’s struggle as a Polish-Catholic immigrant in the United States who had survived a Nazi concentration camp. The lovers’ drama unfolds through the observations of a friend and would-be writer, Stingo (Peter MacNicol). As the trio grows closer, Stingo uncovers the hidden truths that they each harbor. It’s a devastating, heart-wrenching viewing experience. Extras include a new roundtable interview featuring Streep, Kline, Donald Laventhall (director Alan Pakula’s assistant during the film), Hanna Pakula (director Alan Pakula’s widow), Rose Styron (the widow of the novel’s author, William Styron) and moderator Boaty Boatwright (who was Pakula’s agent at the time of the film and is presently an agent at ICM). Available as a Blu-ray/DVD combo from Shout! Factory.
“Dead Shadows” (2012 — France) is an interesting apocalyptic zombie flick that, while high on concept, gore and on-the-cheap special effects, lacks a strong story line and meanders from situation to situation in search of an ending. Given that, however, it’s still a fun ride if you cast aside any expectations of cohesiveness. Eleven years after a young man’s parents were murdered on the same day the Halley comet was visible from Earth, a new comet lights up the Parisian sky, giving rise to Apocalyptic fears — and parties — throughout the city. Chris, on meds because of the anxieties caused by his parents’ unusual deaths, goes to one of the parties but, as the night goes on, the effects of the comet take their toll on the city’s denizens, first making them disoriented and then violent, and then transforming them into horrible creatures — zombies, mutants, alien monsters, human-alien hybrids. In a fight for survival, Chris escapes from his building with the help of some other tenants, only to find Paris devastated by the aftereffects of the comet — and an alien invasion. North American debut of the overseas cult hit. Stars Fabian Wolfrom, Blandine Marmigere, John Fallon and Rurik Salle. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc from Shout Factory!/Scream Factory.
The much buzzed-about “Escape From Tomorrow” (2013), shot guerilla-style at Disney World by writer-director Randy Moore, is a great idea in search of a film. The plot revolves around a middle-class family’s bizarre day at the theme park in Florida that slowly enters a Twilight Zone realm when the husband/father begins to hallucinate and loses his grip on reality. There’s little back story or information about this family aside from learning that the husband has just lost his job (which, of course, triggers the bad day), his wife is a bit of an overbearing shrew, and his kids are spoiled. The film starts off on a promising note, offering some surreal moments and vignettes, then gets bogged down in a series of stale, repetitive scenes as the husband abandons his wife and goes on an obsessive pursuit of a pair of sexy French teenage girls. There’s some digs at corporate America and their consumer-control tactics (but, for a better look at the way theme parks manipulate their visitors, one would be better served reading an academic critique such as Disneyland: A Degenerate Utopia) but, unfortunately, the film doesn’t follow through on this exploration nor on the consequences of American angst, and the hallucinatory segments, paranoid visions in the guise of princesses, happy theme park rides and fellow tourists, fall short of being as horrible as intended. Still, it’s worth viewing for the audacity of the production and some exciting visuals. Stars Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton, Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru. Extras include an illuminating behind-the-scenes featurette. From Cinedigm.
“The Best Offer” (2014 — Italy), written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”) unfortunately wastes a great cast — Geoffrey Rush, Donald Sutherland, Jim Sturgess, Sylvia Hoeks — on an overworked art-swindling theme about an unscrupulous art dealer who gets involved in a scheme that backfires on him. When a mysterious heiress asks famed art appraiser and auctioneer Virgil Oldman (Rush) to evaluate her late parents’ collection — yet wishes to remain anonymous and only deals with him unseen from behind closed doors — it ignites a spark of curiosity in the normally austere Virgil that soon grows into an all-out obsession, leading him down a path of self-destruction. Disappointingly bland and slow given its pedigree. From IFC Films.