It’s Frank Borzage month over at Olive Films. Last week, the no-frills label—which specializes in the overlooked and the long overdue—put out two very-good-but-minor movies by this neglected Hollywood great. Now comes I’ve Always Loved You, one of the major works of Borzage’s late period, a lush, garishly painted metaphysical romance about a love that seems to transcend all boundaries of space and time. This is one of Borzage’s two great ’40s masterpieces (the other being Moonrise), and shouldn’t be missed.
This writer’s favorite Polish director, Krzysztof Zanussi, has never been well known in the U.S., partly because few of his major works have ever been available on home video. Up until this week, the only Zanussi DVD in print was A Year Of The Quiet Sun; now, it’s joined by the slightly less minor Life For Life: Maximilian Kolbe (Ignatius Press), which stars Christoph Waltz—in his first big film role—as a concentration camp survivor whose life is intertwined with the martyrdom of the eponymous Catholic saint. Zanussi came into cinema from a background in physics and philosophy; like much of his work, Life For Life, focuses on its protagonist’s struggle to understand the meaning of his life.
A classic of Eisenhower-era teensploitation, High School Confidential! (Olive) boasts a top-billed cameo by Jerry Lee Lewis and a 21 Jump Street-type plot, which finds undercover cop Russ Tamblyn investigating a locker-room drug ring. The director is Jack Arnold, but if there’s a real auteur to this movie, it’s producer and all-around B-movie aesthete Albert Zugsmith; no one else could’ve had the idea to shoot a scuzzy, silly, black-and-white exploitation picture in luxuriant Cinemascope.
Long available in a variety of muddy editions, the noir cheapies Quicksand and Fear In The Night get “restored” DVD releases this week, courtesy of Film Chest. Neither is close to a must-see, though both have their moments—especially the former, a Cornell Woolrich adaptation with a typically demented plot.
Queen Margot (Cohen) is far from Patrice Chéreau’s best work, though its combination of sex, violence, and opulent costuming has ensured its lasting notoriety. Like many movies distributed by Miramax in the 1990s, this was severely cut for American release; Cohen’s new edition features the original French cut. Speaking of sex and violence: Shohei Imamura’s chilly 1979 masterpiece Vengeance Is Mine (Criterion)—based on the “career” of Japanese serial killer Akira Nishiguchi—is getting a Blu-ray upgrade; in keeping with Criterion’s earlier standard-def release, the new transfer is noticeably more saturated than the U.K. import disc currently available from Masters Of Cinema.
Kino Lorber has two Peter Sellers releases out this week: The Party (Kino Lorber) and What’s New Pussycat? (Kino Lorber). The former was directed by Blake Edwards and has Sellers in brownface, while the latter was written by Woody Allen and finds its top-billed star playing second fiddle to Peter O’Toole while wearing a Fran Lebowitz wig and speaking with a German accent. Every week brings a couple of middling late-studio-era titles from Kino Lorber, and this one is no different, with new Blu-ray editions of On The Beach—the once-acclaimed post-apocalyptic drama by classical auteurist bête noire Stanley Kramer—and Melville Shavelson’s big, boring Arab-Israeli War movie Cast A Giant Shadow. The outlier on the label’s slate this week is Friendly Fire, a Vietnam-themed 1979 TV movie that stars Carol Burnett in a rare dramatic role.
Also out this week: The Hills Run Red/Apache (Shout! Factory), a mismatched double feature that combines a flawed-but-interesting Robert Aldrich Western with a 1966 spaghetti oater directed by Carlo Lizzani; the Richard Matheson-penned horror flick The Legend Of Hell House (Shout! Factory); the World War I flying ace drama Aces High (Cheezy Flicks), starring Malcolm McDowell and directed by British TV vet Jack Gold; and yet another release of the 1949 Little Women (Peter Pan), the weakest of the three best-known adaptations of the novel, directed by a very past-his-prime Mervyn LeRoy.
Blood Glacier (IFC / MPI)
Marvin Kren’s refreshingly straightforward creature feature finds an Austrian research team squaring off against mutated wildlife at a remote outpost in the Alps. There’s no twist, no spin, and few frills—just characters freaking out in the face of an onslaught of makeup and practical effects. B-horror fans who like their monster-at-the-door movies brisk and predictable should be pleased.
The Double (Magnolia)
Actor Richard Ayoade’s sophomore feature directing effort—a nocturnal, vaguely retro dystopian fantasy that stars Jesse Eisenberg as an office drone and his assertive doppelgänger—is a marked improvement over his debut, Submarine. Sure, the visual and pop-cultural references are just as blatant and limited; the difference is that, instead of mining them for secondhand meaning, Ayoade weaves them into the half-real texture of the film, creating an unfamiliar landscape out of familiar things.
Blended (Warner Bros.) is better than the average Adam Sandler flick, which isn’t saying much. The movie—most of which takes place, somewhat queasily, at the notorious South African resort Sun City—finds Sandler reuniting with his Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates co-star, Drew Barrymore, and benefits from the presence of professional scene-stealers Abdoulaye N’Gom and Terry Crews.
Age Of Uprising: The Legend Of Michael Kohlhaas (Music Box) is a largely unremarkable Franco-German adaptation of Heinrich Von Kleist’s masterful 16th-century-set novella, Michael Kohlhaas. Mads Mikkelsen may be the star, but the real draw is the supporting cast; as the movie’s version of Martin Luther, Denis Lavant briefly threatens to bring the whole thing to life.
Speaking of so-so adaptations: The Normal Heart (HBO)—a made-for-TV adaptation of Larry Kramer’s seminal agit-prop play, shakily directed by Glee and American Horror Story co-creator Ryan Murphy—hits DVD and Blu-ray today. The stacked cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Jim Parsons, and Alfred Molina, though it’s not like Murphy knows what to do with any of them. Meanwhile, Legends Of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (20th Century Fox), starring the voice of Glee’s Lea Michele, makes its stopover in the new release section before it heads toward its final destination at the bottom of a bargain bin in a suburban Best Buy.
It’s a week full of intriguing, barely distributed foreign and arthouse titles: A Promise (MPI), the English-language debut of Patrice Leconte (Man On The Train); Young & Beautiful (MPI), directed by Leconte’s typically more interesting contemporary, François Ozon; the Cantonese gangster drama Triad (Well Go); and the 1940s-set Xingu (Breaking Glass), written and directed by the sublimely named Cão Hamburger (The Year My Parents Went On Vacation). Also out this week: The Possession Of Michael King (Anchor Bay), which arrives four just days after opening in theaters, possessing little to interest for even the most diehard derivative-horror junkie; The Love Punch (Ketchup Entertainment), starring Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson; and Trust Me (Anchor Bay), which was written and directed by character actor Clark Gregg, who stars as a child-actor-turned-agent.