THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
“The Wolf of Wall Street”: Let me preface this by saying that I think Martin Scorsese has created some of the greatest films ever to hit the big screen: “Mean Streets,” “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas” and “Casino” are masterpieces. But his last couple of films — “The Aviator,” “The Departed,” “Shutter Island” and “Hugo” have left me cold. Now comes “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a big, rambling mess of a film based on the life of Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), a young Long Island, New York penny stockbroker hungry for a life of non-stop thrills who figures out how to parley his fast-talking style into millions of dollars by defrauding thousands of investors in a massive 1990s securities scam. Taking advantage of all that money could buy, Belfort entered an incredibly over-the-top world of sex, drugs and avarice that went on unabated until it came tumbling down on him after he was investigated by a multi-state fraud task force. Scorsese has created a three-hour opus glorifying Belfort and his boiler room henchmen with cartoonish, overblown and childish sex and drug sequences; his characters, particularly Belfort’s best friend in crime, Donnie Azoff (played by Jonah Hill), are mere caricatures sprouting filth and malice; the action moves from one bloated and debauched scene to the next. And poor DiCaprio is saddled with three of the longest and meaningless speeches in recent cinematic history. It’s all overacted and underbaked. Co-stars Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jean Dujardin, Margot Robbie, Jon Favreau, Joanna Lumley, Cristin Milioti.
The only special feature is a weak “The Wolf Pack” behind-the-scenes featurette. From Paramount.
Also do this week: “Delivery Man,” starring Vince Vaughn; the film was unavailable for review.
Burt Lancaster was at his peak when he starred in director Frank Perry’s adaptation of John Cheever’s 1964 “The Swimmer” (1968), an allegorical story about the foibles of suburban upper-class East Coast society. As adapted for the screen by Eleanor Perry (Frank’s wife), “The Swimmer” plays out as a surreal haunting, and stunning indictment of mid-century bourgeoisie society. Lancaster plays a wealthy, middle-aged advertising man who literally swims his way — from house to house, and from swimming pool to swimming pool — through suburban Connecticut, on a long and revelatory journey to his split-level home and the wife and daughter supposedly waiting for him there. Along the way he meets old acquaintances, friends, lovers and enemies, each one bringing up an incident from the past. As the day progresses, it becomes clear that Lancaster has entered a world that he no longer recognizes, a world that will become his living nightmare when he realizes that he is no longer a part of it. According to some sources, Lancaster and Perry did not get along, and producer Sam Spiegel fired Perry after the first cut of the film; other directors were brought in to finish the film, including Sydney Pollack, and although shooting had taken place in 1966, the film was not released until 1968. Though opening to lackluster reviews, the film has gone on to become a cult classic and its reputation has only grown in the years since its release. Co-stars Janet Landgard, Janice Rule, Joan Rivers, Marge Champion, Kim Hunter and Diana Muldaur. The score was composed by a then-unknown 24-year-old Marvin Hamlisch. The new digital restoration, created from 4K scans, is available in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo with loads of extras (“The Story of The Swimmer,” a new five-part, 2 1/2-hour documentary by Oscar-winner Chris Innis featuring in-depth interviews with Janet Landgard, Joan Rivers and Marge Champion, composer Hamlisch, film editor Sidney Katz, assistant directors Michael Hertzberg and Ted Zachary, UCLA Olympic swim coach Bob Horn, and Joanna Lancaster; the original New Yorker short story read by author John Cheever; 12-page booklet with liner notes by director Stuart Gordon; rare production stills from the lost alternate scenes; extensive still galleries, trailers and TV spots) from Grindhouse Releasing.
A great example of late-Film Noir, directed by a great Noir star, Ida Lupino: “The Bigamist” (1953): Unable to conceive a child, a San Francisco couple decides to adopt … but things take a troubling turn when the adoption agency conducts a background check and discovers the husband is leading a double life, with another family in Los Angeles. Stars Dir.: Ida Lupino, Joan Fontaine, Edmond O’Brien and Edmund Gwenn. Full HD restoration from the original 35mm film elements. From Film Chest Media Group … The original Ozploitation classic is back: “Patrick” (1978), directed by Richard Franklin and starring Susan Penhaligon, Robert Thompson, Robert Helpmann and Rod Mullinar. Thompson stars as a comatose killer seemingly unresponsive in a small private hospital. But when a hot new nurse begins to question his condition, Patrick unleashes a waking nightmare of psychokinetic carnage. HD transfer from the original negative for the first time ever. In a Blu-ray/DVD Combo from Severin Films/CAV Distributing … Another cult classic due this week: Abel Ferrara’s “Ms. 45 “ (2013), which follows a mute Garment District seamstress — played by the late model-actress-musician-screenwriter Zoe Lund (then known, at age 18, as Zoe Tamerlis) — who, after falling victim to multiple unspeakable rapes, unleashes a one-woman homicidal rampage against Gotham’s male population. On DVD, Blu-ray Disc from Drafthouse Films/Cinedigm.
There’s three impressive films due this week from The Criterion Collection. First up is “The Great Beauty” (2013 — Italy), winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign-language Film of the Year. Directed by Paolo Sorrentino, the ambitious and beautifully filmed tale follows journalist Jep Gambardella, who has charmed and seduced his way through the glittering nightlife of Rome since the legendary success of his only novel. But on his 65th birthday, Gambardella unexpectedly finds himself taking stock of his life, turning his cutting wit on himself and his contemporaries, and looking past the lavish nightclubs, parties, and cafes to find Rome itself, in all its monumental glory and beauty … “The Freshman” (1925) was Harold Lloyd’s biggest box office hit, featuring the befuddled everyman at his eager best as a new college student. Though he dreams of being a big man on campus, the freshman’s careful plans inevitably go hilariously awry, be it on the football field or at the Fall Frolic. But he gets a climactic chance to prove his mettle — and impress the sweet girl he loves — in one of the most famous sports sequences ever filmed … In “Persona” (1966), Ingmar Bergman attained new levels of visual poetry. In the first of a series of legendary performances for Bergman, Liv Ullmann plays an actress who has inexplicably gone mute; an equally mesmerizing Bibi Andersson is the garrulous young nurse caring for her in a remote island cottage. While isolated together there, the women perform a mysterious spiritual and emotional transference that would prove to be one of cinema’s most influential ideas. Acted with astonishing nuance and shot in stark shadows and soft light by the great Sven Nykvist, “Persona” is a penetrating, dreamlike work of profound psychological depth. In a new, 2K digital restoration. All Criterion releases are in Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format Editions.
Best of Blu-ray this week: “Best of Bogart”, a four-disc set with “Casablanca,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The African Queen,” $49.99. Includes collectible art cards plus many of the features from previous Blu-ray versions of the films: read about the extras here. From Warner … “The King of Comedy, The 30th Anniversary” (1982), directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott and Sandra Bernhard. From Fox.
And, last but not least, “Here’s Lucy: The Complete Series” (1968-74) is a 24-disc box set with all 144 uncut and digitally remastered episodes, $159.98. The legendary queen of television comedy is joined by her real-life children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr., as well as Gale Gordon, her co-star from the earlier “Lucy Show.” Ball plays Lucille Carter, widowed mother of teenagers Kim and Craig. Lucy works for her brother-in-law Harry (Gordon), who owns Carter’s Unique Employment Agency, leading Lucy into endless predicaments and hilarious hijinks. Guest stars included Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Andy Griffith, Joan Rivers, Danny Thomas, Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, Frankie Avalon, Eddie Albert, Milton Berle, Chuck Connors, Ed McMahon, Don Knotts, Donny Osmond, Eva Gabor, Joe Namath, Petula Clark, Ricardo Montalban, Elsa Lanchester and many more. From MPI Home Video.
BUZZIN’ THE ‘B’S:
Director Stephen Sommers, who made a big splash some 15 years ago with his reimagination of “The Mummy” films, and later went on to helm the big-budget “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” in 2009, has been pretty quiet for the past five years, directing some episodes of TV’s “Max Steel” and planning on a remake of “When Worlds Collide.” The low-budget “Odd Thomas,” which he wrote and directed in 2011 and is now coming to DVD, is not as innovative and thrilling as his “Mummys” but a heck of a lot more fun than his big-budget messes “Van Helsing” and “G.I. Joe.” The film, a kind of tongue-in-cheek supernatural dramedy that could best be described as a cross between “MIB” and “The Sixth Sense,” revolves around Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin), a short-order cook in a California desert town who has clairvoyant abilities — he not only sees dead people but is able to work with them to solve crimes and capture criminals for the local sheriff (Willem Dafoe). But one day a creepy stranger shows up with an entourage of ghostly bodachs — predators who feed on pain and portend destruction — and Thomas is thrust into an apocalyptic battle to save the entire town. It’s a little ragged in parts, and the film has difficulty finding the right tone, but it’s a throughly enjoyable outing. And keep an eye on up-and-coming actress Addison Timlin, who plays Thomas’ love interest. Based on the best-selling thriller by Dean Koontz. On DVD, Blu-ray/DVD Combo from Image Entertainment.