Full transparency: all Blu-rays reviewed were provided by Criterion and Kino Lorber.
We’re going to try and get a little more focused on Physical Media Isn’t Dead and highlight a couple of distributors at a time instead of making you listen to an hour of stream-of-consciousness rambling — now you’ll only have to listen to 15 to 30 minutes of stream-of-consciousness rambling! So for the first set of reviews this month, we are going to focus on our friends at the Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber. As with past posts, things will still be split between audio and text.
Kino Lorber has delivered a personal favorite of mine: from David Cronenberg’s “crime and espionage” era (starting with A History of Violence in 2005) and from writer Stephen Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Locke) comes the 2007 film Eastern Promises, starring Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassell, and of course Viggo Mortensen. Criterion has done the Lord’s work and given a spectacular release to what is probably the most quintessential “jazz film” of all time with the Dexter Gordon-led, Martin Scorsese-produced, and Bertrand Tavernier-directed ‘Round Midnight, for which Dexter snagged an Oscar nomination back in 1987. As it is with early spring in Indiana, it’s a melancholy month for the audio portion of this month’s round-up, but a soulful and engaging one nonetheless. Take a listen and maybe you’ll find something nourishing to seek out in these tough times.
Also out this month…
Kino Lorber and Criterion both had months filled with excellence that I didn’t quite have room for in audio form, so here are some movies that I think would still look pretty nifty on your shelves…
As I mentioned during my review of Bilitis back in February, I want to cover more films from across the erotica/sexploitation/smut spectrum of cinema because I’m so enamored with physicality in cinema. However, when it comes to films like Dirty O’Neil: The Love Life of a Cop, physicality isn’t what you’re really factoring in. You’re watching for the camp value! On the spectrum of sexual cinema there’s the sliding component of camp to contend with and Dirty O’Neil certainly exists on the far right side of that spectrum. It’s quite simply the story of a small town cop with a lust for ladies on and off the job with a second-act complication of three homicidal thugs rolling into town to cause trouble. The titular “Dirty” O’Neil (Jimmy O’Neil to be exact, played by Morgan Paul) isn’t a womanizer by confidence and swagger; he more or less charms or bumbles his way into these sexual encounters, which weirdly makes him endearing (for a cop) — not quite a himbo, but also not quite a lothario.
As far as what makes the movie so campy… look, a very thin line separates this from an early John Waters movie. The movie has bizarre but welcome sequences of humor, including a feuding couple that takes turns covering each other in food. There’s also a hard shift in the final act that makes the film become a rip-roaring action revenge movie (the sex all but forgotten). I can understand why Kino Lorber decided to put this out. There’s more here than just ’70s-era T & A, but there is certainly plenty of that.
Coming with a theatrical trailer, you can find Dirty O’Neil: The Love Life of a Cop through Kino Lorber.
There’s a case to be made for Howard Hawks being the greatest journeyman director to ever put an image to screen, with an adeptness that enables him to bounce from sci-fi to westerns to noir to screwball comedy, putting his own unique spin on it every time but without a glaringly obvious signature stamp (auterists, please don’t murder me, I’m talking in generalities). Man’s Favorite Sport? isn’t really any different. A sex-infused screwball comedy in the vein of Bringing Up Baby that has just enough flourishes to keep you on your toes, it stars the man sculpted from marble, Rock Hudson, as Roger Willoughby, an ace fishing equipment salesman for Abercrombie & Fitch. Except there’s one problem: *record scratch* he’s never been fishing in his life! The pretty and powerful Paula Prentiss plays press agent Abigail Page, who presses him into putting his money where his mouth is and compels him to compete in her resort’s fishing tournament and thus turn him into the great outdoorsman everyone thinks he is — with the little added complication of his fiancée “Tex” (Charlene Holt) deciding to show up.
What a goofball and sometimes bizarre little picture. The tone is decidedly unserious and the performances are dripping with venom-infused innuendo. I love how Paula and Rock bounce off each other. You never get the sense that they’re the ones for each other in the long run but the energy of the back and forth makes you hope they’ll eventually have a nice night together in the future. But back to the bizarreness and Hawks’s penchant for inserting something just left of field into his pictures. There are brief asides of surreality here, including an incredibly memorable sequence involving a Rock, a bear and motorcycle (giving a whole new meaning to “Exit, as pursued by a bear”), and quick inserts from other older films. There’s a good amount of physical comedy from Rock (some I would define as straight-up stunts) and Paula can’t help but be as charming as possible giving guff to Hudson. If you’re looking for something light and fluffy with a little extra ”oomph” on a Sunday morning, then Man’s Favorite Sport? is exactly for you.
Find it through Kino Lorber with a theatrical trailer and a new audio commentary by filmmaker/historian Michael Schlesinger with select remarks by Paula Prentiss and her husband, actor/director Richard Benjamin.
There is a play and a later film starring Patrick Magee and Ian Richardson called Marat/Sade, which is a play within a play where the Marquis de Sade puts on a production about the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat and questions whether societal change can come from drastic class movements or perhaps more so from a change in oneself. It’s a fantastic and searing depiction in which a dialogue is established that has the author criticizing its subjects while also finding them inherently fascinating. The film popped into my head many times while watching Alex Cox’s Walker.
Starring Ed Harris in one of his many career-best performances and directed by Alex Cox, who is by my estimation pretty much mostly known for the punk cult film Repo Man and his current career as a film commentator, the film is about 19th-century figure William Walker, who abandoned a series of careers in law, politics, journalism, and medicine to become a soldier of fortune and, for many months, the dictator of Nicaragua. But this is so much more than a biopic. It’s a blistering condemnation of western imperialism, past, present and future. It’s made with the same “give-no-f***s” energy that Repo Man has but with the fury of the fed-up. It’s also my favorite type of allegorical film. Much like Marat/Sade, it’s a microcosm filled with larger ideas, but unlike that work it’s more expansive. It has to be since it’s about how malicious “manifest destiny” can get.
Sporting an audio commentary by Cox and screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer; Dispatches from Nicaragua, a documentary about the filming of Walker; On Moviemaking and the Revolution, reminiscences from an extra on the film; Walker 2008 and On the Origins of “Walker” (2016), two short films by Cox; behind-the-scenes photos; a trailer; and essays by film critic Graham Fuller, actor and author Linda Sandoval, and Wurlitzer, Criterion brings you a unique piece of commentary that has to be seen to be believed.
Aja Essex is a film lover and a menace. She plays jazz from time to time but asks you not to hold that against her. Her taste in movies bounces from Speed Racer to The Holy Mountain and everything in between. Since both those films have now been screened at and written about for the IU Cinema, she will probably change this bio soon.