CHOICE OF THE WEEK
WRITTEN ON THE WIND (The Criterion Collection): Director Douglas Sirk’s penchant for elaborate, overheated melodramas reaches its peak in this still-powerful 1956 adaptation of Robert Wilder’s bestselling novel, said to have been inspired by the mysterious death of the tobacco heir of Winston-Salem, Zachary “Smith”. Reynolds in 1932.
Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) and Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack) have been best friends since childhood. Mitch, who comes from a working class background, is studious and hardworking. Kyle, heir to a Texas oil fortune, is a badass playboy. Both are smitten with secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall), who opts for financial security by marrying Kyle, much to Mitch’s chagrin. But the wedding is greeted by Kyle’s lusty sister, Marylee (Dorothy Malone), who has long harbored an unrequited love for Mitch.
Nothing good can come out of this turbulent romantic quadrangle, and veiled suggestions of homosexuality, impotence and nymphomania add to the growing intensity of this character-driven parable, further heightened by brilliant cinematography from Russell Metty and Frank Skinner’s indeed flowery score. Hudson and Bacall are attractive, but Stack and Malone unarguably have the juiciest roles, with Stack earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and Malone a surprise winner for Best Supporting Actress. (The title track also received a nomination.)
Robert Keith (Brian’s real father) suffers nobly as Kyle and Marylee’s sick father, who helplessly watches his children destroy themselves, with Grant Williams, Robert J. Wilke, Edward Platt (a decade away get smart), John Larch, Maidie Norman, Roy Glenn and William Schallert among the familiar faces who show up in supporting roles.
Special Edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes the 2008 documentary Acting for Douglas Sirk, theatrical trailer, and more. ***½
THE ADDAMS FAMILY 2 (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Charlize Theron, Oscar Isaac, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Kroll, Bette Midler, Snoop Dogg and Conrad Vernon reprise their voiceover roles in this award-winning PG-rated sequel to the feature film 2019 hit animated film based on the gleefully morbid characters created by Charles Addams, again co-directed by Greg Tiernan and producer/writer Vernon, available on DVD ($29.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.98 retail), each packed with bonus features for Addams aficionados.
ALONE WITH YOU (Dark Star Pictures): In their feature debut, Emily Bennett and editor Justin Brooks wrote, produced and co-directed this dark, award-winning psychological thriller — filmed during the pandemic and unmistakably symbolic — which offers Bennett a turn-of-the-century – by dint of transforming into a young woman plagued by paranoia as she awaits the return of her lover (Emily Myles) to their Brooklyn apartment. Echoes of Polanski Repulsion (1965) abound, there is a growing sense of confinement, and despite the flaws, it is an encouraging calling card for its creators. Genre icon Barbara Crampton enjoys a sharp cameo as Bennett’s mother, available on DVD ($24.99 retail), packed with bonus features including audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews with actors, and more. **½
THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR (RLJE Films): Before making The Djinn (2021), David Charbonier and Justin Powell debuted as writers and co-directors on this 2020 clash, starring Lonnie Chavis and Ezra Dewey as best friends who endure grueling trauma when abducted home from school and attempt a perilous escape, available on DVD ($27.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($28.97 retail), both with bonus features.
BREAD BREAK (Cohen Media Group/Kino Lorber): Producer Beth Elise Hawk makes her writer/director debut in this 2020 feature-length documentary focusing on Dr. Nof Atamina-Ismaeel, the first Muslim Arab to win the Israel Chef reality TV series, which founded the A-sham Arab Film Festival in which Arab and Israeli chefs cook exotic dishes together, succeeding where politicians have failed. In English, Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.95 retail).
DON’T LOOK DOWN (TLA Releasing): Olivier Ducastel and his longtime partner Jacques Martineau wrote and co-directed this intimate drama (originally titled High perches) takes place in the walls of a Parisian apartment where a group of people have gathered to confront their host, who has wronged them each in various ways. The ensemble cast is made up of Geoffrey Couet, Simon Frenay, François Nambot, Lawrence Valin and Manika Auxire (in her feature debut). In French with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.99 retail).
JOSEP (Icarus Films Home Video): Acclaimed animator Aurel’s feature debut is an award-winning animated feature detailing the life of acclaimed animator and social activist Josep Bartoli (1910-’95), and how his experiences in the Spanish Civil War influenced both his work and his life. Sergi Lopez provides the voice for Bartoli, and this imaginative, dark drama manages to distill – but not dilute – the historical aspects into its unique format. Well worth a look. In French and Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($26.98 retail). ***
A NEWSPAPER FOR JORDAN (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Denzel Washington produced and directed this fact-based, PG-13-rated adaptation of Dana Canedy’s bestselling nonfiction, taken from her husband Charles Monroe King’s (producer Michael B. Jordan) diary, a sergeant stationed in Iraq who kept a diary for his infant son at home, with Chanté Adams (in her feature debut) playing New York Times publisher Canedy, available on DVD ($30.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.99 retail), each offering bonus material.
GREEN HELL MONSTER (The Film Detective/Cinedigm): Among the countless “big-bug” sci-fi films of the 1950s, this 1957 shocker, which marked the directorial debut of editor Kenneth G. Crane, stars Jim Davis (decades before it was on televisions dallas) as a macho scientist battling giant, mutant wasps in darkest Africa. Loaded with stock footage and marked by some of the most laughable special effects – then or now – this has its followers among bad movie mavens. They are welcome. Both DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) include audio commentary, collectible booklet, and more. *
NATIONAL CHAMPIONS (STXFilms/Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Executive producer Ric Roman Waugh directed this timely, R-rated sports drama starring Stephan James as the Heisman Trophy-winning college quarterback who stuns the nation when he and teammate Alexander Ludwig support a players’ strike on the eve of the NCAA championship game, much to the dismay of beleaguered coach JK Simmons. Timothy Olyphant, Kristin Chenoweth, Tim Blake Nelson, Uzo Aduba, Lil Rey Howery, Andrew Bachelor, Jeffrey Donovan and David Koechner round out a star-studded supporting cast, available on DVD ($22.98 retail) and Blu-ray (34, $98 retail), each offering bonus features.
RONNIE’S (Greenwich Entertainment/Kino Lorber): The award-winning documentary feature from writer/co-producer/director Oliver Murray explores the life and legacy of Ronnie Scott (1927-’96), a talented saxophonist whose love of jazz led him to open Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, one of the most illustrious venues of its kind, located in the heart of London’s East End, which has hosted a stellar cast of talent including Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald , Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Van Morrison, Chet Baker, Jimi Hendrix and many more. A tribute to Scott and a celebration of jazz with incredible vintage imagery. A must for music lovers, though Scott’s long battle with depression lends a bittersweet note to the proceedings, available on DVD ($19.95 retail). ***½
VISION: THE HISTORY OF VISION (IndiePix Films): Sir Elton John narrates filmmaker Kris Koenig’s explicit hour-long documentary that examines the history, science and technology of vision, and how emerging nations struggle to keep up with the rest of the world in treatment of Patients, available on DVD ($24.95 retail). **½
SILENT NIGHT (RLJE Films): The award-winning feature debut from writer-director Camille Griffith sees a group of friends reunited in a secluded country mansion for the holidays as an apocalyptic plague sweeps through England and the world at large. Initially shaky and smug, this well-done dark comedy finds its rhythm halfway through but ends up getting stuck in a corner. Along with cinematography by Sam Renton and score by Lorne Balfe, a polished ensemble cast includes Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Lucy Punch, Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp, Sopé Dirisu, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Rufus Jones and producer Trudie Styler (in a cameo), but the star is Roman Griffin Davis as Knightley and Goode’s precocious son, who refuses to go quietly into the night, killing himself before disaster strikes. The DVD ($29.96 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.97 retail) include bonus features. **½
EYES OF TERROR (Indican Pictures): the award-winning feature debut of writer/director Delaney Bishop (originally titled Voyeur) follows Lisseth Chavez (in her feature debut), Ayla Kell and Riker Lynch as they film their trip to the Coachella Music Festival in Joshua Tree, only to realize that they themselves are being filmed by the members of the website titular, which focuses on crime and violence. Heavy on the ‘found footage’ motif, it’s far too touchy for its own good and ultimately rather pointless, although the leads are attractive. The DVD ($24.99 retail) includes behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, and more. *½
THE WHALEBOAT (Film Movement): the award-winning feature debut of writer/editor/director Philipp Yuryev (originally titled Kitoboy) is a coming-of-age parable starring Vladimir Onokhov (in his feature debut) as a young fisherman living in a remote Bering Strait village whose life is irrevocably changed when he changes in a picture of the girl of his dreams into a computer, propelling him on a journey of self-discovery. In Russian with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail), which includes Chen Yun’s 2020 short film Before the Typhoon Hits (Taifeng lai zhiqian)in Chinese with English subtitles.
(Copyright 2022, Mark Burger)