New This Week
Two years after British director John Schlesinger made Midnight Cowboy, the definitive film about life in modern day New York, he returned to England to make the definitive film about life in modern day London.
Whereas 1969’s Midnight Cowboy exposed the grit and grime of a city few filmmakers were willing to touch, 1971’s Sunday Bloody Sunday showed us the everyday life of middle-class Londoners in a city that was equally busy and uncompromising.
Schlesinger gave screenwriter Penelope Gilliatt the outline of the story, based on his own life, which was to be about a Jewish doctor who happens to be gay and a female social worker who share the affections of a callow artist who is about to leave them both.
Peter Finch, whose slow, deliberately paced performance is a dead-on imitation of the director, and Glenda Jackson, straight from her Oscar winning performance in Women in Love, give perhaps the performances of their careers as the two who matter-of-factly, if not happily, share Murray Head straight from his breakthrough performances as Judas Iscariot on the landmark recording of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Gilliatt, the New Yorker film critic, whose screenplay was said to have undergone extensive re-writes is nevertheless given sole credit for the screenplay which is filled with brilliant dialogue. Finch’s groundbreaking performance is the first in film history to portray a gay man as an ordinary person rather than a sick, suicidal or limp-wristed character the audience was meant to feel superior to. Jackson, whose characters were often larger than life, proved she was equally adept at playing ordinary down-to-earth modern working women just as well. Head does callow very well, and the supporting players including Peggy Ashcroft as Jackson’s mother; Bessie Love as a nosey telephone operator; and twelve-year-old future star Daniel Day-Lewis in a minor role, are all cast to perfection.
Extras on Criterion’s newly re-mastered Blu-ray include interviews with Head and cinematographer Billy Williams.
Contrast Sunday Bloody Sunday with its four exemplary Oscar nominations for Best Actor, Actress, Director and Screenplay with candidates for this year’s awards form films now emerging on Blu-ray and standard DVD and it’s a joke.
Much in the conversation for Best Supporting Actor this year has been Matthew McConaughey, an actor who has been around since the mid-1990s without quite breaking through to major stardom. His portrayal of the strip club manager in Magic Mike may be audacious, but it’s nothing special. Were it not for the fact that the film was directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh it would probably have escaped notice save for its audience of bored housewives who made it a summertime box-office hit.
Channing Tatum gives a sincere performance as a veteran stripper who really wants to make custom furniture. He mentors new kid on the circuit, Alex Pettyfer, to the disapproval of Pettyfer’s sister, pouty Cody Horn. They are joined by Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello and Adam Rodriguez, who have more to say in the making-of documentary than the actual film, but they’re the lucky ones. They’re spared the banal dialogue that the lead actors are given to speak, most often in incomplete sentences. Despite its modern trappings, it’s less insightful than Gypsy was on the subject fifty years ago.
Magic Mike is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Sarah Polley’s first directorial effort since her Oscar nominated debut, Away From Her, is the critically well-received Take This Waltz once thought to be another Oscar opportunity for star Michelle Williams. Nah. It’s a good performance in a vacuum as Williams takes forever to leave nice but dull cookbook author husband Seth Rogen to move in with hunky artist Luke Kirby. A chance encounter with Rogen makes her realize she still loves him, but it’s too late. It’s too late for her and too late for the audience who by now has lost all interest.
Take This Waltz is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Better, but not exactly in Oscar’s wheelhouse either, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World from neophyte director Lorene Scafaria is an odd mix of comedy and drama about the different ways people react to the oncoming apocalypse caused by an approaching asteroid. A low-key Steve Carrel and a charming if kooky Keira Knightley provide the film with quite a bit of heart as a melancholy insurance salesman and the neighbor he never knew. William Petersen and Martin Sheen have small but significant roles.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is available on both Bu-ray and standard DVD.
Fox Cinema Archives continues to release vintage films from the Fox library at a rapid pace. Now available are films featuring contributions by three recently deceased Hollywood legends.
Sandra Dee’s character in 1963’s Take Her, She’s Mine was based on future writer-director Nora Ephron in the film version of the play written by her parents Henry and Phoebe, played by James Stewart and Audrey Meadows. Beloved star Andy Griffith is one of Debbie Reynolds’ suitors in 1961’s The Second Time Around. Oscar winner Celeste Holm co-stars with fellow Oscar winner Loretta Young as French nuns in the 1949 Christmas classic, Come to the Stable.
The Archive has also released two long out of circulation classics.
The hilarious 1943 comedy, Holy Matrimony with Monty Woolley as the celebrated artist who poses as his dead butler and Gracie Fields as his female equal in the film version of the novel Buried Alive, which was also the basis for the 1968 Broadway musical Darling of the Day with Vincent Price and Patricia Routledge.
The 1939 musical Swanee River was one of three musical biographies of Stephen Foster. It’s a Hollywood fabrication, but Don Ameche as Foster, Al Jolson as minstrel E.P. Christy and all those Foster tunes make it worthwhile.
This week’s new releases include the Blu-ray upgrades of Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection featuring fifteen of his best known films; Rosemary’s Baby and Long Day’s Journey Into Night.