This week’s new releases are mixed efforts offering minor pleasures – worth seeing, but perhaps after the week’s catalogue titles, which include a Chaplin classic, an ‘80s masterpiece, a film noir essential, and more. Let’s dive in:
Between Two Ferns: The Movie: Werner Herzog moved a boat through a jungle for Fitzcarraldo and Francis Ford Coppola braved tycoons, heart attacks, and the military whims of Ferdinand Marcos for Apocalypse Now, but there may be no greater challenge to today’s filmmaker than adapting a comedy sketch into a feature film. From Run Ronnie Run to Jiminy Glick in Lalawood to any given Saturday Night Live adaptation, it’s proven understandably difficult to stretch a five-minute sketch into a real movie, so it’s not surprising that the biggest laughs in Scott Aukerman and Zach Galifianakis’s expansion of their popular Funny or Die interview series are found in the interviews – when Galifiankis asks Matthew McConaughey, “I notice that you’re wearing a shirt, is everything ok?” or queries, of Tessa Thompson, “You were in Creed. What’s Scott Stapp like?” The other stuff is just filler, flimsy connective tissue from one interview to the next, which might be a bigger concern in a theatrical release. But for a streaming original, background noise while scrolling or doing chores, it fits the bill just fine.
Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives: Chris Perkel’s musical bio-doc of the legendary record label head may sound a bit inside baseball, but Davis was one degree of separation from most popular music of the past half-century, discovering and/or shepherding everyone from Janis Joplin to Whitney Huston to Kenny G to Notorious B.I.G. to success. He accumulated a lot of songs along the way – and a lot of good stories, which he tells here with relish. It’s a bit overlong and not exactly groundbreaking formally, but there’s a lot to learn here about the way the music business works, both then and now, and the staying power of being a (seemingly) good guy in a slimy line of work.
ON AMAZON PRIME:
Hiding Out: Let me just own this up front: this Jon Cryer-fronted action/comedy might be terrible. I’ll never know, because it came out in 1987, so I saw it on HBO (where it aired frequently), and everything about it was irresistible to 12-year-old me: it was fast, it was funny, it was about a too-cool-for-school outcast, and said outcast was played by Mr. Cryer, who any young man of my age wanted desperately to be. Does it hold up? Well, the tone is all over the place and the dialogue is goofy and the central premise is brimming with logical fallacies. Then again, have you rewatched Beverly Hills Cop lately?
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD:
Yesterday: Yes, the director of Trainspotting and the writer of Love, Actually are a peculiar combination, and Yesterday is at its worst when the latter takes over – particularly in regards to the dud romantic subplot, which makes no sense at all and concludes with the kind of public declaration sequence that should have died in the ‘90s. But the central premise – a struggling singer/songwriter awakens from a traffic accident to a world where no one remembers the Beatles – is worked through with some wit (the full ramifications aren’t really addressed, but it sparks a handful of funny sequences and tasty running gags), stars Himsesh Patel and Lily James are charming and charismatic, and Kate McKinnon unsurprisingly steals every scene she comes anywhere near. (Includes audio commentary, alternate ending and opening, deleted scenes, gag reel, and featurettes.)
Local Hero: “You’re a Scot,” they tell him. “You’ll be dealin’ with your own people!” But Mac (Peter Riegert) isn’t really a Scot – he’s just a guy trying to make his name in the oil company that sends him to buy up a seaside village in Scotland, which proves easier said than done. Writer/director Bill Forsyth really digs into this little town, carefully establishing its geography and sharply drawing its characters; by the picture’s end, it feels like you could make yourself at home there. The perpetually undervalued Riegert is a treat as the fast-track guy who finds he likes slowing down, while Peter Capaldi (a baby!) is daft and funny as his right-hand man. But the comic dynamo of the movie is Burt Lancaster, a weird, wild hoot as the eccentric big boss of the company, a guy so powerful that when he falls asleep in a meeting, it is finished out in whispers. New on Blu from Criterion, and an absolute essential. (Includes new interview and archival featurettes and TV clips.)
The Circus: This 1928 Charles Chaplin comedy has, in the decades since its release, become something of a victim of “in-between” syndrome: it was released between The Gold Rush (1925) and City Lights (1931), not only two of his best, but two of the best films ever made, so this comparatively lightweight comedy is easy to dismiss. But it’s a delightful mix of slapstick and pathos, featuring some of his finest set pieces (the bit where he ingeniously hides himself as a robot is an all-timer) and a genuinely sweet relationship between his Tramp and Merna Kennedy as a circus rider. (Includes audio commentary, new and archival interviews, featurettes, outtakes and deleted scenes, premiere footage, archival recordings, and trailers.)
Hellraiser / Hellbound: Hellraiser 2: Clive Barker’s tightly-wound compendium of sexual repression, queer coding, and jaw-dropping gore gets the Arrow special edition blu-ray treatment, along with its first sequel, and you really haven’t seen the pair’s stomach-churning gross-outs until you’ve seen them in high-def. The original Hellraiser remains the best in the series, a snazzy, unpredictable blend of leering and fantasizing that makes the subtext of many a contemporary horror picture (your sexual sins will come back to haunt you) into text; the narrative is so compelling, and the performances are so nuanced, it’s sort of a surprise to discover that “Pinhead,” the series’ antihero, is such a peripheral presence. (Includes audio commentaries, featurettes, draft screenplays, and trailers.) That’s not the case in Hellbound: Hellraiser 2, which picks up (a la Halloween II) right where its predecessor left off, and spends its running time as, alternately, a gender-swapped remake, a trip to (low-budget) hell, and a good old-fashioned booby hatch movie. Director Tony Randel doesn’t have Barker’s gift for mood manipulation, but it’s still a good, gory time. (Includes audio commentaries, featurettes, storyboards, behind-the-scenes footage, and trailers.)
Bucket of Blood: Little Shop of Horrors tends to get all the “Roger Corman quickie horror/comedy” attention, and understandably so – after all, it has a Jack Nicholson cameo, and inspired one of the great contemporary musical/comedies. But director Corman and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith’s earlier experiment in genre fusion, 1959’s Bucket of Blood, has its own charms: namely, a rare lead performance by beloved character actor (and Corman standby) Dick Miller, a deliciously bloody plot, and a delightfully jaded view of the (then-contemporaneous) beatnik scene. Thanks to its public domain status, it’s been circulating on low-quality streaming sites and bargain DVD bins for years, so kudos to Olive Films for giving it the Blu-ray upgrade it deserves. (Also streaming on Amazon Prime.) (Includes audio commentary, interviews, featurettes, alternate cuts, and trailer.)
The Set-Up: Martin Scorsese appears on the audio commentary for this film noir classic (new on Blu from Warner Archive) and it’s not hard to see its influence on him; the stark black-and-white boxing sequences of his Raging Bull are clearly indebted to director Robert Wise’s work here. And that’s not its only influence; three years before High Noon, this film tinkered with real-time storytelling, unfolding in the hour and a half before, during, and after Bill “Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan) takes the ring for a fight he’s supposed to throw, and chooses not to. But gimmicks and flourishes aside, this is a sturdy character study, in which two desperate people (Ryan’s boxer and Audrey Totter as his wife) have to decide exactly how much they have left to offer the world – and each other. (Includes audio commentary.)