It’s a bit of a dodgy week for home movie viewing, new release-wise at least; the calendar is dominated by the likes of that Penguins of Madagascar thing, the ill-advised Annie remake, and the unfortunate Exodus: White Gods and Kings . But there’s good news too, as this week sees the release of one of last year’s best comedies, the Blu-ray debuts of two all-time classics, and a hidden gem from Criterion. Plus, for you Netflixers, we offer a fave from ’98 rendered newly timely.
Ever After : With the umpteenth new and snoozily faithful remake of Cinderella cleaning up in theaters, it’s a fine time to fire up the Netflix and revisit Andy Tennant’s 1998 version of the story, which gives it the feminist reimagining for which it’s so direly overdue. Drew Barrymore makes for a charming “Danielle,” Anjelica Huston gives Cate Blanchett a run for her vampy money, and it’s got Melanie Lynskey — who makes every movie/TV show/thing better — as one of the terrible stepsisters. A surprising charmer upon its original release, it holds up, and well.
Top Five : For years now, Chris Rock has been a cinematic puzzle — one of our smartest and savviest stand-up comics, yet incapable of making a feature film even remotely worthy of his talents (even when writing and/or directing them himself). He finally hit on the winning formula with Top Five: he went Woody Allen, and made a Stardust Memories-tyle artist-in-turmoil piece that was basically about himself. It’s not a film without its problems, sure. But it’s got a low-key confidence that Rock’s film work so often lacks, it finally provides Rosario Dawson a juicy leading-lady role, and Rock apparently set out to fill every single supporting role with a great stand-up comic. He ends up with a love letter to the form, and a heartfelt, funny picture to boot. (Includes deleted scenes, outtakes, and an entertaining audio commentary by Rock and co-star/buddy JB Smoove.)
Ride the Pink Horse : We all love the Criterion Collection for the spiffy remasters and deluxe treatments they provide for established classics; less praised, but equally praise-worthy, are their discoveries, small movies that most of us have never heard of and may only see thanks to their endorsement. The latest exhibit is this 1947 picture from director/star Robert Montgomery, a dusty border noir whose DNA can be found in the later Touch of Evil and No Country for Old Men, among others. Montgomery plays a tough-talking stranger who won’t show his cards, and his mysterious motivations load his interactions — we don’t know what he wants, so we don’t know where he’ll go. It’s loaded with colorful supporting characters and mood to spare, particularly in the third act, which becomes a fever dream of paranoia and dread at fiesta time. Scene to watch for: the woozy, punch-in-the-gut merry-go-round sequence. (Includes audio commentaries and interviews with film noir experts, as well as the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film.)
The Lady from Shanghai : As detailed on this episode of Karina Longworth’s wonderful “You Must Remember This” podcast, Orson Welles had to eat a lot of crow when he went to make this 1947 thriller for Columbia’s Harry Cohn, for whom he’d earlier vowed never to work after a flap concerning Columbia’s contract with Welles’s then-wife, Rita Hayworth. As luck would have it, Hayworth would co-star with Welles in this moody noir effort, which was only a modest hit at the time, but is now considered one of the classics of the genre (if, for nothing else, its iconic house-of-mirrors shoot-out; its subtext gets a good once-over by Longworth). This new, shockingly low-priced edition marks its Blu-ray debut.
The Wild One : Also new on Blu is this classic 1953 biker drama, which found star Marlon Brando at the height of his powers — and by “height of his powers,” I mean “between Julius Caesar and On the Waterfront,” so, yeah. As the leader of an outlaw biker gang, Brando influenced decades of cool, and the picture’s most famous exchange (“What are you rebelling against, Johnny?” “Whaddaya got?”) became the rallying cry for generations of outcast rebels.