Studies in the banality in greed and opportunism
"Margin Call" (Lionsgate) accomplishes something that Oliver Stone failed to show in his "Wall Street" sequel: it explains how and why the market crash happened, not just in terms of economics but in the culture of Wall Street and the justifications that individuals tell themselves in order to follow the company line.
Written and directed by J.C. Chandor, whose fictional portrait echoes the real-life activities of Leman Brothers in 2008, "Margin Call" is not played for tension, tragedy or melodrama. This is not "Glengarry Glen Ross," with venal salesman and savage banter. Chandor is more interested in the banality of greed and opportunism and the ease in which principled employees are swayed to engage in unprincipled acts. If they don't do it, someone else will.
The film has been criticized as an apology for the people behind the market crash, but I don't see Chandor's sympathy for the various individuals on display -- notably Kevin Spacey as a career company man disgusted by the corporate behavior -- as any kind of apology. I see it more as a social study, a kind of fictional ethnographic profile of the corporate culture, with characters more suggested than fully fleshed out. It’s to the credit of the actors, from Spacey and Zachary Quinto (as the young risk management officer who finally figures out the Achilles heel of their highly-leveraged position) to Paul Bettany, Simon Baker, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci as the corporate professionals who put the company -- and, ultimately, the entire American financial system -- on the precipice, that they emerge as real people.
Chandor underplays the human drama and the anonymity of the Wall Street office building so much it risks slipping into doldrums, but the stakes are too great and the actors too sharp to let that happen. Along the way, Chandor shows us not just how it happened, but why it's destined to repeat itself. Quietly, without editorializing, he reveals an increasingly familiar pattern: the people who had nothing to do with the crisis, and even those who predicted it and were ignored, are fired after it comes crashing down, while the folks who let it happen are kept on to see how they can turn this crisis into profit.
For film lovers with a taste for the classic and contemporary foreign films
Krzysztof Kieslowski ended his career with "Three Colors: Blue White Red" (Criterion), a trilogy of delicately connected films that many hold as his greatest work. They are the three colors of the French flag and the films reflect the ideals of the motto "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" as a Kieslowski-an exploration of the human experience. Criterion's new edition gives sublime trilogy given a magnificent treatment, from stunning new HD transfers to a wealth of supplements, including new video essays on each film. It's one of the greatest releases of the year. On DVD and Blu-ray. Videodrone's review is here.
Winner of the Palm d'Or at Cannes 2010 and finally stateside in 2011, "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" (Strand) is not a film for everyone, which is too bad for everyone else because it is gentle and sublime and magical and magnificent, a film that straddles the physical and the spiritual worlds. This is for anyone seeking out films that deliver a different kind of cinematic experience. It was chosen in the MSN critics poll as one of the ten best films of 2011. On DVD and Blu-ray. More here.
"The Complete Jean Vigo" (Criterion) presents newly remastered edition of all four films made by the great French director, including his sole feature (the sublime "L’Atalante") and revered extended short (the playfully surreal "Zéro de conduite"), made before he died at the age of 29. On DVD and Blu-ray. More here.
And Jean Renoir's "The Rules Of The Game" (Criterion), considered one of the masterpieces of world cinema, is rereleased in a new, improved high-definition master with additional supplements on DVD and Blu-ray. More here.
Legendary gangster movie director Jean-Pierre Melville turned his familiar crime film iconography on its head with "Army Of Shadows" (Criterion), his gravely personal drama about the early days of the French Resistance in World War II.
"Landmarks of Early Soviet Film: A Four-Disc DVD Collection Of 8 Groundbreaking Films" (Flicker Alley) may sound like dry lesson plan in film history on the surface but the diversity of films, from dynamic dramas to witty comedies to striking documentaries, makes this collection a revelation for lovers of silent films, classic cinema and adventurous filmmaking. DVD only. More here.
Not exactly documentary, "Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinema" (Olive) is a collection of eight video essays, made over a period of ten years, where the filmmaking legend considers the history of the movies with a typically idiosyncratic style. Not for every foreign film lover, but indispensable for any fan of Godard. More here.
"Amer" (Olive), a Belgian mindtrip from directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, pays tribute to the giallo, a deliriously stylish brand of Italian horror, with a subjective psychosexual trip that defies explanation but is a glorious experience nevertheless (or perhaps because of it). More here.
And if you're willing to consider something a little different, think about a DVD subscription for your foreign film-loving friends.
Film Movement releases one acclaimed foreign feature and month on a DVD featuring a bonus short film. For $134.99 for a year subscription (there are also shorter, less expensive plans) subscribers receive the discs months before they are available for sale or rent to the general public. Past films include the culture-clash dramedy "The Human Resources Manager" from Israel, the mesmerizing "Alamar" from Mexico and the provocative "Storm" from Germany. Subscribers can also buy earlier discs from the catalogue as a reduced price. Visit the Film Movement website to more details.
The Oscilloscope "Circle of Trust" offers the next ten releases from Oscilloscope for a $99 subscription, to be delivered to the recipient a week in advance of its availability for sale or rent. Past Oscilloscope releases include Kelly Reichert's frontier drama "Meek's Cutoff" with Michelle Williams (currently showing up on Top Ten lists across the country), the twisted Santa Claus tale "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" from Finland and the harrowing documentary "A Film Unfinished" from Germany. Subscribers also get access to the entire Oscilloscope back catalog at discounted prices. Go to the Oscilloscope website for more details.
Woody Allen's most romantic vision is also his most popular to date
Who would have predicted that "Midnight in Paris" (Sony) would become Woody Allen's most financially successful film ever?
On the one hand, the wish fulfillment fantasy of an American screenwriter (Owen Wilson) on a Paris vacation who is whisked back in time and welcomed into the company of the Lost Generation artists of the twenties, is pure lark, a waking dream of delights where the fondest wishes are delivered with idealistic perfection. On the other, Allen's brings his fantasy to life with such affection and joy that he transports us into his dream come true as a shared fantasy. We, too, are embraced in the bosom of this society, welcomed into the company of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, et al. as an equal. All we have to bring is a little wit, and the amiable Wilson does just that.
Allen doesn't work at convincing us it is anything but a fantasy. In fact, he revels in the fantasy and simply enjoys the experience, as does the tremendous cast he invites to the party. But no one exudes more delight that Wilson, the most open and accepting and amiably sincere of Allen's stand-ins, strolling into every situation with a grin across his face and an easy acceptance of everyone he meets. No kibitzing malcontent here, Wilson is the soul of generosity. This is a man who just wants to share the joy of his discoveries. He just needs to find someone who values them as much as he does.
It's also a heartfelt love letter to Paris. Taking his camera to the streets, Allen offers the loveliest walking tour of the city I've seen on screen, and in his time travel reminds us of the history that resonates in the very streets and skyline views of the city. "Midnight in Paris" is surely the most romantic vision of Allen's career.
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week
Who would have predicted that "Midnight in Paris" (Sony) would become Woody Allen's most successful film ever? Owen Wilson is perhaps the most amiable of Allen stand-ins as an American writer in Paris who is transported back to the twenties and welcomed into the company of the artistic greats of the era. It's complete wish fulfillment fantasy and yet completely charming, a valentine to Paris today and a tribute to the history that still inhabits the city. On DVD and Blu-ray. Videodrone's review is here.
"Margin Call" (Lionsgate) accomplishes something that Oliver Stone failed to show in his "Wall Street" sequel: it explains how and why the market crash happened, not just in terms of economics but in the culture of Wall Street. A modest drama with plenty to say. On DVD and Blu-ray, featuring commentary, deleted scenes and featurettes. Also on Digital Download and On Demand. Videodrone's review is here.
"Colombiana" (Sony), the latest from the Luc Besson international action movie factory, is a sleek revenge thriller starring Zoe Saldana as a sexy assassin. A little silly, a lot of fun. DVD and Blu-ray. Reviewed on Videodrone here.
More serious is "Warrior" (Lionsgate), a sports drama about two brothers (Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy) who meet in the world of mixed martial arts. DVD, Blu-ray, Digital Download and On Demand. "Straw Dogs" (Sony) is the 2011 remake of the violent Sam Peckinpah drama, this one starring James Marsden, Kate Bosworth and Alexander Skarsgård. DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download.
More family oriented is "Dolphin Tale" (Warner), based on the true story of an injured dolphin saved by a dedicated marine biologist and starring Harry Connick, Jr., Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman, and "Glee: The Concert Movie" (Fox), featuring the cast of the TV series. Both on DVD and Blu-ray.
Also new: "Burke and Hare" (MPI) from director John Landis, "Blackthorn" (Magnolia) starring Sam Shepard as Butch Cassidy, "Toast" (Image) and the documentaries "Eames: The Architect and the Painter" (First Run) and "Senna" (Universal).
TV on DVD:
"Futurama: Volume 6" (Fox) features 13 new episodes of the Matt Groening's recently revived animated sci-farce about a modern day human frozen in the wacky future of the year 3000. On DVD and Blu-ray.
A wedding, a birth, a scandal, a fight to survive in a raging storm: "One Tree Hill: The Complete Eighth Season" (Warner) offer 22 more episodes of the melodramatic shenanigans that has made this CW night-time soap opera into a long-running hit.
Flip through the TV on DVD Channel Guide here
Cool, Classic and Cult:
Gary Cooper is the young ambulance in WWI and Helen Hayes a British nurse in "A Farewell to Arms" (1932) (Kino), Frank Borzage’s very adult film of Ernest Hemingway’s novel. "Nothing Sacred" (Kino) is a dizzy screwball comedy from 1937 starring Carole Lombard as a sweet, sexy lovesick ditz and Fredric March as a scheming newsman who falls in love with her. Both of these films have been long available in inferior public-domain DVD editions. Kino remasters both films for DVD and Blu-ray debut from original nitrate 35mm prints preserved by George Eastman House. Reviewed on Videodrone here.
Also new: "Love Exposure" (Olive), an epic, four-hour drama of youth culture in Japan from director Sion Sono.
"Underworld Trilogy: The Essential Collection" (Blu-ray) (Sony) collects all three of the "Underworld" films in anticipation of the upcoming fourth installment. The first of the sleekly stylized monster mash is fun despite its self-serious direction, the second is bloody awful (emphasis on the bloody) and the third… well, if you made it that far, then you're sure to enjoy it just as much. The set features commentary, featurettes and exclusive new anime short as well as the Ultraviolet function. Videodrone's review is here.
Also reviewed this week: Seijun Suzuki’s 'Tokyo Drifter' and 'Branded to Kill'
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The musical "Lost Horizon" and films from Lucille Ball and Boris Karloff among the new offerings
Sony is a relative newcomer to the manufacture-on-demand format and has only recently started digging deep for cult titles and star turns still buried in their catalogue. Here's a list of their recent releases from the catalogue.
"Lost Horizon" (1973) is not the Frank Capra classic but a musical remake with Peter Finch, Liv Ullman, Olivia Hussy, Charles Boyer as The High Lama and perhaps the worst songs ever written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The film, never released on VHS and previously available solely via a limited-edition laserdisc, has acquired quite a reputation over the years… as one of the worst films ever made. This version restores footage cut from the wide release, including songs by Bacharach and David. Unlike most MOD releases, this is something of a special edition: it features two promotional short films on producer Ross Hunter, song demos by Burt Bacharach and an alternate scene.
"The Lucy Collection: Volume 1" – Four films starring Lucille Ball just before she made the transition to TV superstar: "Her Husband's Affairs" (1947) with Franchot Tone, "Miss Grant Takes Richmond" (1949) with William Holden, "The Fuller Brush Girl" (1950) with Eddie Albert and the Arabian Nights fantasy "The Magic Carpet" (1951), which casts her in a rare villainess role along side Raymond Burr.
Frank Capra's "American Madness" (1932), one of the director's early classics of populist Americana starring Walter Huston as a banker trying to keep his bank alive in the depths of the depression, was previously available on DVD exclusively in the box set "The Premiere Frank Capra Collection." This DVD-R release is the film's solo debut.
And for fans of gothic horror, two with Boris Karloff have recently debuted: "The Black Room" (1935) and "Before I Hang" (1940).
Boston Blackie’s Chinese Venture (1949)
Storm Over the Nile (1955)
The Night Holds Terror (1955)
Edge of Eternity (1959)
13 West Street (1962)
You Must Be Joking! (1965)
Shadow of the Hawk (1976)
The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)
Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987)
Martha & Ethel (1994)
The Tango Lesson (1997)
And from TV:
Mr. Sunshine: Season One (19
Hart to Hart: Till Death Do Us Hart (19
The Quest (1976)
MOD stands for "Manufacture on Demand" and represents a recent development in the DVD market, where slipping sales have slowed the release of classic, special interest and catalogue releases. These are DVD-R releases, no-frills discs from studio masters, ordered online and "burned" individually with every order. You can read a general introduction to the format and the model on my profile of the Warner Archive Collection on Parallax View here and on the MGM Limited Edition Collection on Videodrone here.
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Choice, affordable releases for every cinefile's Blu-ray collection
"Blue Velvet" (MGM), David Lynch's masterpiece of the rot under the picture-perfect façade of small town idealism, debuts on Blu-ray with a treasure trove of recently discovered deleted scenes. They aren't added to the film, mind you -- Lynch's original version is his director's cut, no compromises made -- but they are easily the greatest Blu-ray supplement of the year. Videodrone's review is here.
Pour yourself a white Russian and kick back for the Blu-ray debut of "The Big Lebowski: Limited Edition" (Universal). Rolling Stone once called it "the most worshipped comedy of its generation." I like to think of it the Book of Duderonomy, the lost gospel of the post-modern Testament. Now the Coen Bros. classic of easy living and competitive bowling on the absurdist mean street of Los Angeles abides on Blu-ray. Full review here.
The glorious new digital restoration of "Taxi Driver" that debuted at the Berlin Film Festival arrives on a stunning Blu-ray. Martin Scorsese' incendiary masterpiece of alienation and anger and urban anxiety is a maverick vision in decade of maverick filmmaking. Decades later it's still an unsettling portrait and a riveting experience. More here.
Jean Cocteau’s "Beauty and the Beast" (1946) (Criterion) is a wonder. The Beast is truly a beautiful creation, the B&W photography by Henri Alekan shimmers, and the eerie imagery of the living statuary and animated objects of the castle creates a texture of visual poetry and cinema magic never been equaled in the years of fairy tale cinema since. And there is nothing like black-and-white on Blu-ray. More here.
Say hello to my little Blu-ray! "Scarface: Limited Edition" (Universal) delivers the Blu-ray debut of Brian De Palma's urban gangster classic, with Al Pacino as the Cuban thug who shoots his way to the top of the Miami drug trade, in a special edition with a documentary and a limited edition SteelBook case. More here.
John Boorman's magnificent and magical "Excalibur" (Warner) is, to my mind, the greatest and the richest of screen incarnation of the oft-told tale of King Arthur, Guenevere, Lancelot, the Knights of the Round Table and Camelot. This is the Arthur legend at its most primal and it's gorgeous on Blu-ray. More here.
"Pulp Fiction" (Lionsgate), Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore feature, solidified his reputation as a cinematic mixologist of genre stories and "Jackie Brown" (Lionsgate), Tarantino’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s "Rum Punch," is easily his most mature work. They both debuted on Blu-ray this year in marvelous new editions with all-new supplements. More here.
"The Stunt Man" (Severin), Richard Rush’s brilliant little backstage drama of illusion and reality and moviemaking sleight of hand, earned three Oscar nominations and universally glowing reviews, yet is was barely seen on its initial release and became an almost instant cult classic. More here.
Roman Polanski once cited "Cul-De-Sac" (Criterion), a sly little character piece set in an isolated medieval castle on the barren British coast, as his personal favorite of his films, and the closest he came to creating "pure cinema." Criterion's release is the first official home video release in the U.S. and it is a stunning disc and a welcome debut of a brilliant black comedy and a wicked little psychodrama. More here.
"Are we not men?" That's the question at the heart of "Island of Lost Souls" (Criterion), the first adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel starring Charles Laughton as a heartless scientist who plays God in his jungle laboratory. Though not as famous as the original "Frankenstein" and "Dracula," this early-thirties horror is one of the greats and makes its long-awaited debut on both DVD and Blu-ray. More here.
"MOMA: 50 Masterworks From the Collection" (Screen Dreams) brings a different meaning to the term "art house release." The DVD and Blu-ray release reproduces 50 works from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, which turns your TV into a rotating exhibit.
Your guide to our coverage of the new DVD/Blu-ray releases
Here's what's new on DVD and Blu-ray this week as featured on Videodrone
'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' – All Hail Caesar
Exclusive Clip: 'Kung Fu Panda 2'
The New Release Rack: 'Fright Night,' 'Detective Dee,' 'Daddy Long Legs,' 'Tanner Hall' and more
TV on DVD:
'Switched at Birth' – Blood and Family
The Cool and the Collectible:
Videodrone Essentials: 'Meet Me in St. Louis'
MOD Movies Calendar: Recent Releases from the MGM Limited Edition Collection
Watching with Todd Haynes, director of 'Velvet Goldmine'
Streams and Channels:
MSN Exclusive Video: Andy Serkis takes us behind the scenes of 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'
Coming up next week:
"Midnight in Paris" (Sony)
"Margin Call" (Lionsgate)
"Dolphin Tale" (Warner)
"Straw Dogs" (2011) (Sony)
"Glee: The Concert Movie" (Fox)
"Burke and Hare" (MPI)
"A Farewell to Arms" (1932) (Kino)
"Nothing Sacred" (Kino)
"One Tree Hill: The Complete Eighth Season" (Warner)
"Futurama 6" (Fox)
"Underworld Trilogy: The Essential Collection" (Blu-ray) (Sony)
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A video clip from the Blu-ray release shows us how Serkis becomes Caesar
Read Videodrone's review of the release, which is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download, here.