The DVD Report #265

Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, filmed in 2005 and barely released in September, 2011, was generally well received by the critics although it did have some very vocal dissenters. I found myself decidedly in the middle.

The film’s basic story is about a spoiled prep school brat (Anna Paquin) who causes a horrific traffic accident by flirting with a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) who runs a red light and hits a pedestrian (Allison Janney). Janney’s painful last ten minutes of life is arguably the film’s best scene as a remorseful Paquin holds the dying woman in her arms.

As long as the film sticks to the basic story it is highly engrossing with Lonergan’s real-life wife J. Smith-Cameron providing strong support as Paquin’s mother and Jeannie Berlin all but stealing the film as Janney’s one true friend and the only wholly sympathetic character in the bunch. The problem is that the film meanders all over the place.

Not content to present Smith-Cameron solely in her very effective role as the protagonist’s mother, it features her in repetitious scenes from the play she’s appearing in and in a relationship with Jean Reno that has nowhere to go. Worse, Lonergan himself plays Paquin’s father now relocated to Los Angeles and either remarried or in a live-in relationship with another woman. All of his scenes could and should have been excised without affecting the film’s narrative.

Matt Damon as Paquin’s math teacher and Matthew Broderick as her English teacher are memorable in brief roles, but the repetitive scenes in which Paquin and her fellow classmates argue could have been reduced to one or two.

Paquin’s performance itself is difficult to assess. Although her character is often annoying, she does have a few moments of poignancy in which the actress’ considerable gifts shine through and she and Smith-Cameron are genuinely moving in the film’s final scene.

The film’s long delayed release was due to a dispute between the director and the distributer, Fox Searchlight, which refused to release the film at the length turned in by the director. Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker eventually provided the 150 minute theatrical release cut, which has been released on Blu-ray with an extended 186 version presented on an accompanying standard DVD. What we really need is a shorter version, something between 90 minutes and two hours, no more.

The 1981 Best Picture Oscar winner, Chariots of Fire has long been derided as one of Oscar’s least deserving winners. It isn’t. The film, which focuses on the 1924 Olympics, may have been a surprise winner, but it was not an undeserving one unlike, say, the 1956 winner, Around the World in 80 Days, which was sold as a movie event that was the momentary “in” thing. It was an “in” thing that became very unfashionable very fast. I suspect that the 2011 winner, The Artist, last year’s “in thing” will suffer the same fate before long. Chariots of Fire, however, is a timeless film that is once again very much “in” as we look forward to the 2012 Olympics in London.

The film, it should be recalled, opened at a time when the Olympics were very much on the minds of audiences, particularly American audiences after the 1980 success of the U.S. hockey team and the upcoming 1984 Olympics in Las Angeles.

It took us back to a time when the Olympics were about God and country, not a pit stop on the road to big money endorsements for the high profile winners. Hugh Hudson’s film focuses on rival track stars Ian Charleson as a devout Christian and Ben Cross as a determined Jew. Nigel Havers, Ian Holm and John Gielgud provide memorable support. The film’s biggest asset, however, is Vangelis’ soaring score, a sample of which is provided with the newly released Blu-ray upgrade.

Blu-ray extras also include a handsome booklet, a director’s commentary, several making-of documentaries and deleted scenes.

Michael Crichton’s hit 1978 film Coma, from Robin Cook’s best-seller has been remade as an A&E TV miniseries, but the original film still has plenty of thrills and chills to engage modern audiences. Genevieve Bujold, Michael Douglas, Elizabeth Ashley, Rip Torn and Richard Widmark star in the sci-fi medical mystery which has just been given a Blu-ray upgrade.

The Blu-ray unfortunately does not include any extras.

Warner Bros. has released volumes 4 and 5 of their highly popular Forbidden Hollywood series. Though released through the Warner Archive, the initial pressings, at any rate, are pressed discs not the MOD DVD-Rs standard to the archive.

Volume 4 gives us three directed by William Dieterle and one directed by Thornton Freeland. The Dieterles feature William Powell as a jewel thief who seduces married baroness Kay Francis while getting witnesses high on marijuana in Jewel Robbery; Powell as an honest lawyer who falls victim to corruption in Lawyer Man with Joan Blondell as his loyal secretary; and Kay Francis as a female executive who seduces her male secretary in Man Wanted. The Freelander features Loretta Young as a small town girl who falls for city slicker Manners, his pal, doctor George Brent and womanizing theatrical producer Louis Calhern in quick succession in They Call It Sin.

Volume 5 gives us four films from five directors. Mervyn LeRoy’s Hard to Handle features James Cagney as a con man involved with lovely Mary Brian and her larcenous mother Ruth Donnelly; Howard Bretherton and William Keighley’s Ladies They Talk About features Barbara Stanwyck as a gangster’s moll pursued by both reformer Preston Foster and mobster Lyle Talbot with Lillian Roth as her pal behind bars; Roy Del Ruth’s The Mind Reader features Warren William as a con man who romances innocent Constance Cumming;s and Lloyd Bacon’s Miss Pinkerton features Joan Blondell in an early starring role as a nurse-detective in an adaptation of a Mary Roberts Rhinehart murder mystery.

All four films in Volume 4 and Volume 5’s Miss Pinkerton were released in 1932. The other three were released in 1933. None of these offer up anything that would be shocking to today’s audiences, but implied pre-marital and extra-marital sex and other goings-on in these films, would in fact, be forbidden under Hollywood’s production code beginning in mid-1934, thus the sensationalistic name for the series.

This week’s new releases include Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and the Blu-ray debuts of Singin’ in the Rain; High Noon and the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

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