Pretty big list this week so I’ll start with some individual titles then jump into the groupings. Up first is The Swordsman, a Korean action period piece. If you read me enough you know I tend to dig these types of films and I definitely recommend this one too. A swordsman who protects the king is blinded during a coup. He stays in hiding with his daughter for years until she is kidnapped. Then the action really kicks in as he fights still partially blinded using a cane which just happens to hide a sword. There is some great fight choreography and swordplay obviously. It’s not as violent as Miike’s Blade of the Immortal, but fans of that film should like this. The costuming and set design are top-notch, but with a name like The Swordsman you expect action and it provides it. There’s one scene where he takes on dozens of men and it’s really good. I can see this one picking up a following in the US to those of us who enjoy these types of films.
Second we have God of the Piano. This Israeli film is about a concert pianist who gives birth to a deaf child. I won’t spoil the twist in case it’s not known, but she makes a crazy decision in order to raise a child who would become a better pianist than herself and gain her father’s respect. The film sort of takes on the nature vs. nurture angle as she pushes the child to be better. The lead actress is very good in the role, but I did sit waiting for the consequences of her actions to hit. It doesn’t play out the way I expected so I guess that’s a good thing. It’s always surprising when a film doesn’t always pay off in the way you expect. It’s sort of open ended too which I liked. I don’t always need perfect closure in a drama like this. I can clearly see why the film and lead actress did well on the film festival circuit abroad.
Unfortunately Mambo Man does go exactly how you expect it to. The film is about a Cuban farmer/music promoter who gets into a deal with an old friend he hadn’t seen in years. The friend has a deal of a lifetime for him, a woman is leaving the country and wants to sell priceless jewelry dirt cheap. The man has to raise the money in a few days in order to buy them. The entire movie I sat there waiting for the shoe to drop. You know someone is getting tricked at some point if you’ve ever seen a movie like this before. I guess it’s based on a true story, but I don’t know that true story. The setting is great as is the music and cars, but the story we’ve seen a thousand times before.
The documentary Mayor is next. While watching it I wasn’t quite sure if it was real or a spoof because some of it plays for laughs more than I expected. It follows Musa Hadid, the liberal Christian mayor of Ramallah, during his second term in office. The city is surrounded by violence and soldiers as it sits in the central West Bank located 6 miles north of Jerusalem. One minute he’s near gunfire, the next he’s planning a Christmas celebration and getting a fountain made. Prince William also comes to visit. Because it’s all over the map in terms of tone, I wasn’t sure if it was a real documentary. It is. He’s real and everything happening in the film did happen. It makes sense though considering the city’s location, the majority of its citizens are Muslim yet he’s a Christian and Israeli Jewish soldiers are fighting there as well so it should be a bit bizarre. It’s very well made and it made me look up some information about him and the area.
The following seven releases come from Kino Lorber. Up first is The Underneath, a 1995 film from Stephen Soderbergh. Peter Gallagher stars as a gambler who returns to his hometown for his mother’s wedding. He burned many bridges back home because of debts and leaving his girlfriend. He runs into her and she’s now with a local bar owner who isn’t a good guy. Gallagher sticks around to try to win her back, but gets involved in an armored truck heist to eliminate his competition. I had never seen it before and it has all the classic Soderbergh elements. There’s different color filters. It time jumps around. The acting is great and I dug the story. I can see myself watching it again and I’m surprised I wasn’t familiar with it.
Next is The War, the 1994 film starring Kevin Costner and Elijah Wood. I hadn’t seen it in well over 20 years and didn’t realize Lucas Black was one of the “bad” kids. It’s based in 1970 Mississippi with Costner as a Vietnam vet who can’t keep a job because of PTSD. Wood is his son and along with his daughter, build a tree fort with friends. They get material from a local junkyard but that family wants it all back and are mean to other kids. It results in a big battle for the tree fort. It’s better than I remember it and Wood really showed glimpses of the good actor he would become. I never quite loved the film, but it feels nostalgic now which I might not have felt being young myself the last time I watched it.
Speaking of films I haven’t seen in decades, the 1990 animated film Jetsons: The Movie gets a Blu-ray this week. They were clearly hoping this film would jumpstart interest in The Jetsons again, but if I remember right, it didn’t do so well. Watching it now, it’s super dated and the animation looks much older. Pop singer Tiffany does the voice of Judy and sings in the film. Despite Joseph Barbera and William Hanna’s involvement and some original voice performers, it just didn’t connect with a younger audience or older fans. I’m sure it has some diehard fans who will love this new release though.
One movie I did love was Filmworker. I first saw this documentary a few years ago but hadn’t seen it since. This documentary is about Leon Vitali, an actor turned everyman for Stanley Kubrick. For decades he worked for Kubrick, but he wasn’t just an assistant. He did editing, casting, acting coach, location scout, sound engineer, color corrector, A.D., promoter, and eventually restorer of Kubrick’s films. On The Shining he helped young actor Danny Lloyd learn his lines, stay focused and kept him occupied in between takes. R. Lee Ermey got his part in Full Metal Jacket because of Leon. Leon himself played multiple roles (behind masks) in Eyes Wide Shut. Not only that, but he cut trailers, cut and edited film, color corrected and more in post production. If you are a fan of film especially the work of the master Stanley Kubrick, this is a must watch. Watching it again now on Blu-ray, it is, without a doubt, one of the best film documentaries in years. A must own for film nerds.
Sticking with film documentaries, The Kid Stays in the Picture hits Blu-ray this week as well. I honestly have no idea how I’ve never seen this 2002 documentary on Robert Evans before. I knew of its existence. I know I should have seen it, but I hadn’t until this was sent my way. What is great about it is its honesty. It’s not shy about his ups and downs. He started out making clothing with his brother, then by chance became an actor then a one time huge movie producer. The Godfather, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, Evans had a hand in all of them. Then he got involved with cocaine. Then a man was found dead and Evans was involved with people involved with the murder. But that’s what makes this film great, he talks about all of it. He doesn’t necessarily blame anyone besides himself which is great, but he also thinks very highly of himself. He passed a few years back and if you haven’t seen this, definitely check it out.
One last film documentary, Man with a Movie Camera also gets a Blu-ray this week. This 1929 Russian film was a game changer of the Silent Film era. It’s amazing the camera movement and editing this has. There’s no written narrative, it’s all footage of daily Soviet life. The fun, the work, the daily grind. It’s almost 100 years old yet has film techniques people today struggle with. There are split screens and freeze-frames and other techniques which paint this picture of life. It’s pretty fascinating actually when you look at it with today’s perspective. It has been restored with a new score.
Last for Kino is Bordertown Season 2. This Finnish show can easily rival any good crime show coming out of the US. It mixes the odd ticks of Monk and House with the seriousness of SVU. The lead is a chief investigator named Kari Sorjonen who appears to be on the spectrum and sees clues and evidence differently than others. He reads people better and is brought in to help solve major crimes. This season is about a Russian prisoner who was involved with a case almost 20 years earlier. His daughter was raised by one of the inspectors on the show and bodies start showing up. People involved with the earlier case are being killed and Kari and his team must solve the case. It’s a 3 disc set I binged over 3 days and has a great noir feel. I liked it quite a bit.
The next group of releases come from Mill Creek Entertainment. Up first is the Jim Carrey Collection. This includes 3 films: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and The Cable Guy. I watched the Ace Ventura films a lot in the 1990s when Carrey was king. In today’s world they wouldn’t fly, but that’s why I like them. I actually think the sequel might be funnier now than the original, but that might because I’ve seen the original more often and remember most of the jokes. The Cable Guy was Carrey’s first edgy film after Ace Ventura and The Mask. It didn’t do as well at the box office, but it’s a different kind of comedy. He’s not talking out of his butt in this, instead he’s stalking Matthew Broderick’s character and just wants a friend. It’s dark and I think I like it more now as an adult than I did back then. A great collection for Carrey fans.
Second we have The Net/The Net 2.0. The Net was a mid-90s Sandra Bullock film that showed the downside of internet living. She worked in IT, but when on vacation, has her identity stolen from her. The cops think she’s a wanted woman all because a seedy organization wants her taken out for figuring out some information. Bullock is good, but like all tech movies, it’s very dated almost 30 years later. I had no idea there was a sequel to it called The Net 2.0. There’s no big names in this one and after watching it now, it’s sort of the same movie. It came out around 2006 with a woman moving to Istanbul for a tech job, having her identity taken from her from a seedy organization. It’s not very good and I have no idea who the lead actress is. If you’ve never seen it and want to watch out of curiosity, good luck.
Sticking with tech movies, I always thought Breach was pretty underrated. This 2007 film stars Chris Cooper as an FBI agent who is arrested for spying with Ryan Phillippe as a computer specialist who wants to be an agent and was placed to watch Cooper. It’s a pretty solid cat & mouse story that doesn’t feel overly aged like other films. Phillippe’s character is told one reason he’s investigating Cooper and slowly learns the truth. It’s based on a true story and I always kind of liked it. Phillippe impressed me and you can never go wrong with Cooper and Laura Linney.
The Cowboy Way gets a new Blu-ray this week. This 1994 film stars Woody Harrelson and Kiefer Sutherland as two cowboys from New Mexico who go to New York City looking for a friend that had gone to get his Cuban daughter. It’s your classic fish-out-of-water story with two cowboys not knowing city lifestyles and wearing cowboy hats and riding horses. It’s a bit cheesy now, but I can see it having fans. This might be the first time it’s available on Blu-ray, but I’m not 100% sure. I hadn’t seen it in years and forgot Ernie Hudson was the New York cop that helped them.
Baby Mama is out this week too. The film didn’t work for me when it came out in 2008 but I wanted to give it another shot. It still doesn’t work for me. Tina Fey plays a successful businesswoman who wants a baby and uses Amy Poehler as a surrogate. Poehler shows up at her door needing a place to stay and the organized Fey has to deal with Poehler’s antics. Despite a huge cast with Steve Martin, Sigourney Weaver, Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard and more, it just doesn’t make me laugh. I got a couple of smirks out of it, but Fey and Poehler have much better comedies out there.
Last we have 90s Kid Star Collection which includes My Girl, My Girl 2, Wild America, Radio Flyer, North and Troop Beverly Hills. I’ve always had a soft spot for My Girl because Anna Chlumsky and Macaulay Culkin are just delightful in it. A bit of a tearjerker for a kids flick. The sequel doesn’t have as much heart, but having them together is nice. Wild America is the classic teen story about three brothers on a road trip documenting animals and discovering much more. Like the previously mentioned The War, Radio Flyer showed what a great child actor Elijah Wood was. Another heartwarming story, it’s about a brother helping his younger brother trying to escape the abuse of their new stepfather. North sees Elijah Wood trying to find new parents after a court case decides he can. Rob Reiner directs with a huge cast including Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Bruce Willis. Troop Beverly Hills is the oddball of the lot being more of a comedy with the others much more dramatic. It’s also from 1989 starring Shelley Long who becomes a Wilderness Girl troop den mother during her divorce. She’s used to a lavish Beverly Hills lifestyle and it’s a fish-out-of-water comedy as well.