This week’s two biggest new releases on disc would make a fine double feature: buddy action comedies with a brain and a surprising amount of heart. Also on the shelves this week are a lost gem from John Ford, a giddy ‘60s comic strip adaptation, and a dose of the British New Wave.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
The Nice Guys: Of all the disappointments of the summer, few cut more than the inability of Shane Black’s latest to find an audience – and seriously, it’s got movie stars and explosions and shoot-outs, this wasn’t exactly alienating art-house fare. Ah, well; his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang had to wait for home video to get its due respect, and this one will presumably do the same. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are in top form as a busted-out private eye and a busted-out hired hood who team up to solve a dizzyingly complicated Hollywood murder, circa 1977, and Black offers up all we’ve come to expect from his wickedly entertaining work: self-aware plotting, witty banter, quotable dialogue, well-executed action beats, and a crackling good time. (Includes featuerettes.)
Midnight Run: “What’re ya, a comedian?” a cab driver asks Robert De Niro in the closing scene of this 1988 action/comedy (debuting, at long last, on Blu-ray), and it plays like a bit of wink – because back then, the idea of Method man De Niro using his tough-guy persona at the service of laughs was still a novelty. But it’s a funny performance, without ever trying to be; George Gallo’s screenplay merely bounces him off fussy Mob accountant Charles Grodin, and watches the sparks. Grodin is the more conventionally comic performer, of course, and he has several funny bits, but he and De Niro have the timing and byplay of a good comedy team, which is the kind of thing it’s hard to manufacture. Director Martin Brest takes what could’ve been a conventional action picture on the order of his previous hit Beverly Hills Cop – and to be sure, it’s got plenty of car chases, shoot-outs, fist fights, chopper attacks, and Mob snipers – but it all serves the central relationship, and he never rushes his performers through the personal beats and slow burns that are, ultimately, the movie’s heart. (Includes new and archival interviews, vintage making-of featurette, and trailer.)
3 Bad Men: It’s tempting to look through this early, silent Western from the great John Ford for hints at his later work: a plot that seems a dry run for 3 Godfathers, an eye for the authenticity of salt-of-the-earth background players similar to Grapes of Wrath, the tough gal heroine of countless pictures, the visual lyricism of his most iconic works. Yet it’s much more than a piece of embryonic research; it’s a story of immigration and expansion with complex stakes, told with astonishing scope, with a real sense of spectacle and savage beauty in its action beats. And all of that somehow peacefully coexists with the light comedy of its middle stretch, in which the three no-good horse thieves of the title find themselves disarmed and smitten by one pretty lady. The stretches of contemporary country in the score occasionally distract, but no other QC complaints for this welcome HD upgrade of a long-thought-lost classic from one of our most important filmmakers. (Includes audio commentary and trailers.)
A Taste of Honey: This British New Wave drama from director Tony Richardson is deceptively modest – it traffics in flat realism and matter-of-fact playing, but it has much to say about how we grow up, and how quickly we’re often forced to do so. The subject is a young woman’s coming of age, discovering her independence, identity, and sexuality – from the mad rush of teen romance to the crushing disappointment of “settling.” Rita Tushingham’s lead performance is a marvel of openness and vulnerability, while Richardson’s striking yet everyday black-and-white photography paints in brush strokes of candid honesty, colored by occasional glimmers of hope. (Includes new and archival interviews, fearutette, and an early Richardson short.)
Modesty Blaise: Fox and director Joseph Losey were clearly attempting to launch their own Bond franchise with this 1966 comic strip adaptation, albeit with a campier, nuttier tone and a sexy female protagonist at its center. It didn’t work, but their single entry is self-aware and playful, with a creamy style, snazzy music and costumes, a nice himbo turn by Terence Stamp, and Monica Vitti being all Monica Vitti-ish in the title role. It’s goofy as hell, but mighty entertaining, and its colorful design pops right off this lovely Blu-ray transfer. (Includes audio commentary, interviews, animated images, and trailers.)