The Irishman: The idea of being a part of history – of not just observing it, but seizing it and forming it – looms large over Martin Scorsese’s latest, a movie that knows that, at the end of the day, the ones who shape history are often those who just happen to be around. Robert De Niro is terrific as one of those men, a mob enforcer whose lifetime of casual crimes and unapologetic tough stuff lead him to a job he does not want, a trigger he cannot pull, but must. Al Pacino is just ferocious as Jimmy Hoffa, chewing up these big speeches but turning into a big pussycat around the people he cares about, perhaps to his detriment. And Joe Pesci is stunning as a boss of quiet power, a man who never raises his voice – in other words, the kind of character we’ve rarely seen him play. Scorsese is, simply, a modern master, and this is one of his finest works.
Booksmart: Actor-turned-filmmaker Olivia Wilde helms this uproariously funny last-night-of-high-school comedy, in which a pair of straight-A students (Beanie Feldsteinand Kaitlyn Dever, both terrific) realize they were so busy studying that they never cut loose, so it’s time to finally do that. The expected adventures with drinking and drugs and sex ensue, but Booksmartworks because of the gravity of the relationship at its center – it’s a film well acquainted with the specific, do-or-die intensity of adolescent friendships, which, let’s face it, we never quite replicate as adults.
All About Eve: It’s one hell of a month to be a Bette Davis fan. She’s the “Star of the Month” over at Turner Classic Movies, which means we got a full day of her vehicles every Tuesday (including a fair number of wonderful but long-forgotten Pre-Code pictures); on December 1, The Criterion Channel will begins streaming a program of 18 Davis pictures. And today, Criterion is putting out gorgeous new editions of two of her classics. Eve may well be her best-remembered feature, and for good reason: this inside-showbiz comedy/drama from writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz is full of quotable dialogue, memorable characters, a timelessly compelling understudy-ruthlessly-takes-over narrative, and unforgettable turns by not only Davis but Anne Baxter, George Saders, and a young up-and-comer named Marilyn Monroe. It all adds up, as Ms. Davis puts it, to quite the bumpy night. (Includes audio commentaries, four documentary/featurettes, new and archival interviews, radio adaption, and Dick Cavett Show episodes.)
Now, Voyager: Davis is nearly unrecognizable, at least in the early scenes of Irving Rapper’s 1942 melodrama, in the mousy glasses and severe hair she dons to play the emotionally stunted daughter of a domineering, rich mother (Gladys Cooper). But after a revitalizing ocean voyage – and an emotionally intense onboard affair with an unhappily married stranger (Paul Henried), she finds herself exerting her strength and personality. Rapper’s direction is marvelous – there’s a shot of her mother tapping a bedpost that is so striking, I found myself lunging for the pause button. And Davis is simply spectacular in the role; just watch what she’s doing with her face and eyes when she tells her mother, “I’m not afraid,” and then repeats it, realizing it’s not a bluff, willing it into existence. (Includes new and archival interviews, selected-scene commentary, radio adaptations, and Dick Cavett Show episode.)
The Bells of St. Mary’s: Just in time for the holidays, Olive Signature Collection has a beautiful new disc of director Leo McCarey and star Bing Crosby’s follow-up to their 1944 Oscar winner Going My Way. Crosby won Best Actor for that performance as Father O’Malley, and he’s even more comfortable than usual here (which is saying something), as his easygoing, streetwise priest butts heads with Ingrid Bergman’s Sister Benedict, the head of St. Mary’s parochial school. Warm, winning, and funny, and Bergman will absolutely break your heart. (Includes audio commentary, featurettes, and radio adaptations.)
The Holly and the Ivy: KL Studio Classics are also getting in on the holiday classics fun, first with this charming 1952 comedy/drama from director George More O’Ferrall. Based on Wynyard Browne’s play, it concerns a family at various personal crossroads – chief among them the patriarch, Reverend Martin Gregory (the wonderful Ralph Richardson), whose family’s long-buried resentments come to the surface over the holidays, as these thing often do. Holly is a “classic,” to be sure, but its thoughtful, complicated conflicts and strained interpersonal dynamics play as especially contemporary and sophisticated. (Includes audio commentary and trailers.)
Christmas in July: And one more holiday comedy, though it’s a holiday in name only. Helmed in the middle of a stunning two-year, four-film winning streak that also included The Great McGinty, The Lady Eve, and Sullivan’s Travels, writer/director Preston Sturges tells the story of a desk clerk (a delightful Dick Powell) with dreams of winning a big advertising contest. His office “friends” decide to fake it like he won – prompting a spending spree that takes a bit of delicacy to walk back. As usual, Sturges is a master of screwball logic, working through every complication and conflict for maximum comic effect, and his company of comic supporting players is as sharply deployed as ever. Christmas in July isn’t usually mentioned among his classics, but for this viewer’s money, it’s every bit their equal. (Includes audio commentary and trailers.)