This week’s big new Netflix release is Werner Herzog’s Into the Inferno, which you must not confuse with Ron Howard’s Inferno (unless you’re doing a gimmick review). And the Blu-ray shelves are stuffed with the latest Star Trek adventure. Plus: a timely thriller starring Daniel Radcliffe, a film noir fave, and a forgotten Western comedy from the great Preston Sturges.
Into the Inferno : The magma of the volcano is a boiling fire indifferent to all above, Werner Herzog assures us in the narration for his latest globe-trotting documentary, though in more colorful verbiage (and in his distinctive accent). That magma, and its willingness to prove its indifference, is the engine for Herzog’s film, but he’s equally interested in the cultures that pop up around the molten lava, and the rituals it provokes in them. Some of the digressions are tentative, and/or run on a bit (even for Herzog), but it’s a film of verbal and visual poetry, the filmmaker working in the idiosyncratic style that few others would even try to replicate.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Star Trek Beyond : The third film in the new Trek cycle finds Justin Lin taking over directorial duties from J.J. Abrams, and exhibiting a lighter touch overall than the ponderous Into Darkness. And screenwriting falls to Doug Jung and co-star Simon Pegg, so it’s no small surprise that the film plays best when it’s going for character and situational comedy, and exploring the dynamics of a group that has by now become comfortable and familial. The rest of the picture doesn’t always match up – Idris Elba is particularly underused, buried under layers of makeup and a shitty Halloween mask – but it’s light-hearted, high-spirited, and frequently satisfying. (Includes deleted scenes and featurettes.)
Imperium : Daniel Radcliffe continues to flex his versatility in this drama from writer/director Daniel Ragussis, starring the former Harry Potter as an FBI agent going undercover in the “White Genocide” movement. As a deep-cover thriller, it’s so-so; as a look at the complexities of those movements, and the different types who populate them, it’s timely and insightful. The supporting performances are particularly well-drawn; Toni Collette conveys a career’s worth of frustration and second-guessing into every strained smile, and Tracy Letts puts across a potent mix of hucksterism and danger as a right-wing talk-radio host. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, and trailers.)
The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend : Writer/director Preston Sturges’s remarkable run of 1940s comedies came to a close with a bit of a whimper, thanks to this Western laugher’s tepid commercial and critical response in 1949. And to be sure, it falls far short of the high bar set by pictures like The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek – the pacing is off, and the famous Sturges dialogue wobbles as much as it zips. But it’s a kick to see the Sturges stock company in full Technicolor, the picture is snappy and high-spirited – and Betty Grable is plain terrific as a tough-talking, sharp-shooting, wanted woman in the Old West. Clearly not one of his classics, but considerably better than its reputation. (No bonus features.)
I Wake Up Screaming : Grable again, this time cast, rather unconvincingly, as the plain-Jane sister of a glamour girl (Carole Landis). H. Bruce Humberstone directs this ingenious film noir thriller, a clever murder mystery that unfolds in flashbacks via shifting storytellers under police interrogation. It’s moody and stylish, with wiseguys lurking in dark shadows, a sharp and unexpected final turn, and a genuinely unnerving supporting performance by Laird Cregar as a soft-talking cop who gives the whole movie the willies. The frequent and incongruent use of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is a distraction (though a reminder that The Wizard of Oz, released two years earlier, was already all but forgotten), but that minor complaint aside, this is a crisp and well-executed slice of noir. (Includes audio commentary, alternate opening title sequence, deleted scene, image gallery, alternate ad campaigns, and trailers.)