Robert Culp’s only film as a director is a flavorful, thoroughly downbeat buddy crime flick about a couple of broke, broken men (Culp and his I Spy co-star, Bill Cosby) who happen to work as private eyes. In many ways, the movie—which was scripted by a young Walter Hill—plays like an even more pessimistic cousin to The Long Goodbye. Once upon a time, Cosby’s moody, occasionally mean performance seemed against-type.
The third, and best, of the five movies Sidney Lumet made with Sean Connery. Lumet, the king of the American actor’s picture, could tune into Connery’s natural intensity better than just about any other director; here, cast as an unstable detective who’s beaten a suspected child molester (Ian Bannen) to death, Connery is alternately scary and pathetic. Lumet’s direction overdoses on disorienting effects—never his strong suit—but also manages to tease out the viciousness in Connery and Bannen’s performances.
The Emerald Forest (Kino Lorber): John Boorman’s vision-quest adventure flick—in which man’s man Powers Boothe hunts for his missing son in the Amazon rainforest—possesses a kind of crazy, opaque integrity. Boorman has produced his share of inventive, cold-blooded thrillers (Point Blank, Deliverance) and messy mythopoeic freak-outs (Zardoz, Excalibur), but whenever he’s tried to cross the two, as he does here and in Exorcist II, the result has come out more interesting than captivating.
Enter The Dragon (Warner Bros): The definitive Bruce Lee movie, and an icon of wacky ’70s cool.
Legacy Of Rage (Shout! Factory): Before directing the canted-angle extravaganza The Bride With White Hair, Ronny Yu helmed this cartel-takedown flick, which is packed with eye gouges, throat chops, and the kind of liberally dosed squibs that would come to define ’80s action excess. Brandon Lee stars; the film was his only Cantonese role.
Kung Fu Girl/Whiplash (Shout! Factory): A double feature of Golden Harvest-produced wushu flicks, both starring Come Drink With Me’s Cheng Pei-Pei.
Mary Reilly (Sony): Keanu Reeves-in-Dracula accents notwithstanding, this dank, drizzly variation on The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde is much better than its reputation suggests, thanks in part to a performance by John Malkovich that’s credibly predatory, if not very credibly English.
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (Sony): The clearest expression of Frank Capra’s populist vision of American democracy, animated by a Jimmy Stewart performance that’s almost suffocating in its aw-shucks righteousness.
The Package (Kino Lorber): Andrew Davis—the kind of filmmaker for whom terms like serviceable and not half bad were invented—directed this stolid late Cold War thriller, in which grump supreme Gene Hackman has to stop grump heir apparent Tommy Lee Jones from assassinating a Soviet politician.
The Quatermass Xperiment (Kino Lorber): English director Val Guest worked in a wide array of genres during his nearly half-century career, but he’s best remembered for a handful of Atomic Age sci-fi films, including this Hammer production, adapted from the first of the BBC’s influential Quatermass serials.
The Secret Lives Of Dentists (Sony): The final film to date by the great, idiosyncratic Alan Rudolph—a modest, internal-monologue domestic drama about a tightly wound suburbanite (Campbell Scott) who thinks that his wife (Hope Davis) is having an affair, but doesn’t know what to do about it.
The Simpsons: The Seventeenth Season (20th Century Fox): By 2005, The Simpsons’ luster had dulled, but the show’s 17th season still contains some spots of gold. Twisty-turny ensemble piece “The Seemingly Never-Ending Story” netted the series a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program, while Kelsey Grammer’s appearance in “The Italian Bob” gave the actor the Outstanding Voice-Over Performance honors he should’ve won for “Cape Feare.”
Tales From The Crypt/The Vault Of Horror (Shout! Factory): Two Amicus-produced British horror anthologies, loosely inspired by the EC Comics horror bi-monthlies of the early 1950s. Cinematographer and occasional director Freddie Francis (The Doctor And The Devils) helmed the former, Hammer regular Roy Ward Baker the latter.
Witness To Murder (Kino Lorber): A pre-Rear Window noir in which Barbara Stanwyck tries to prove that her ex-Nazi neighbor murdered a woman in his apartment. There’s plenty of chewy ideas here—about perspective, credibility, and gender—and a few shimmering, shadowy images courtesy of cinematographer John Alton.
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (20th Century Fox)
Essentially a stand-alone, Matt Reeves’ sequel to Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is imperfect, though far from impersonal. Like its predecessor, the movie inverts the structure of the original Planet Of The Apes, shifting viewer identification from the decimated humans to the super-intelligent apes, and changing the focus from the breakdown of a society to the ways in which societies form. Here, humans and apes band together in overtly patriarchal hunter tribes, divided and united by ideas about strength and fatherhood. If you want to find out just how much of a real-deal director Reeves is, skip the opening recap and turn off the subtitles.
As Above, So Below (Universal): B-horror journeyman John Erick Dowdle directed this enjoyable found-footage flick about a modern-day alchemist hunting for the philosopher’s stone in the Paris catacombs. The horror the movie is trying to evoke keeps mutating, as does the environment; it’s a refreshingly weird and unpredictable entry in a genre predicated on rules. A viewer expects to see monsters around the corner of a dank cave, but not a burning car.
Cantinflas (Lionsgate): A biopic about the Mexican comedian and film icon, framed around the production of his American debut, Around The World In 80 Days; Óscar Jaenada plays the title role and Michael Imperioli plays producer and all-around impresario Mike Todd.
The Congress (Drafthouse): Waltz With Bashir director Ari Folman’s ambitious live-action/animation hybrid, loosely inspired by a Stanislaw Lem novel. “Not since Southland Tales has such an overstuffed, incoherent, crazily ambitious sci-fi epic landed in theaters, threatening to severely alienate every viewer it fails to seduce.”
Field Of Lost Shoes (Arc): The South will rise again—in a low-budget fake-mustache drama about how the Confederacy wasn’t really racist.
Fifi Howls From Happiness (Music Box): A documentary about a largely forgotten Iranian artist, living out his last days in a hotel in Rome. “The film that develops isn’t a de facto detective story like so many other recent arts documentaries (e.g., Finding Vivian Maier), but rather a poetic rumination on a modern artist at peace with having roundly rejected the notion of posterity, even as he nears his death.”
Jingle All The Way 2 (20th Century Fox): “The second installment of the successful film franchise,” starring Larry The Cable Guy and directed by the man behind Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, Inspector Gadget 2, and Tooth Fairy 2. We dare you.
The Notebook (Sony): János Szász’s allegorical drama—the kind where none of the characters have names—about the Nazi occupation. “With its cast of uniformly corrupt characters, [the movie doesn’t] exhibit much interest in moral philosophical shadings. Instead, Szász stays mostly on the brutal surface, delivering a simple tale of a nightmare coming of age that feels all too bloodless.”
The Strain: The Complete First Season (20th Century Fox) While generating enough interest and acclaim to warrant a second season, FX’s adaptation of the Guillermo Del Toro-Chuck Hogan trilogy The Strain made its biggest splash with a set of literally eye-gouging billboards that were taken down prior to the show’s premiere. Naturally, the vampire thriller’s most disturbing (and, frankly, most memorable) image is front and center on the packaging.