The DVD Report #555

Only the Brave is a film that all but slipped through the cracks when released last October. The inspirational story of a group of twenty firefighters from a town near Prescott, Arizona, the film follows the narrative of most team-building films whether they’re about soldiers, sailors, or sports figures. They’re a group of different people, mostly men as they are here, who come together under shared difficulties. In this case, the men are training to become an elite group that will be allowed to tackle the toughest of fires. Known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the team of twenty will lose nineteen of its members in the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 20, 2013, the third deadliest wildfire in U.S. history and the deadliest loss of firefighters since 9/11. The lone survivor was the lookout who was rescued by the superintendent of another team.

Josh Brolin, in one of his best performances, is the superintendent of the Hotshots, a no-nonsense perfectionist with struggles of his own who takes a recovering drug addict, an equally fine Miles Teller, under his wing. Jennifer Connelly, also in excellent form, is Brolin’s wife, a horse whisperer. Taylor Kitsch is the swaggering ladies’ man of the group and James Badge Dale is Brolin’s heir-apparent. Jeff Bridges, who shares over-the-title billing with Brolin and Teller, has a supporting role as the town’s fire chief. Andie MacDowell is Bridges’ wife.

As compelling as much of the film is, it’s the horrendous, all-consuming fire that steals the film and breaks your heart. The special effects are magnificent. The direction is by Joseph Kosinski, whose previous films were Tron: Legacy and Oblivion.

Only the Brave is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

The Finnish entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Academy Awards, Tom of Finland, does an excellent job of presenting the artist’s struggles as a gay man in the repressive Finnish society of the 1940s and 50s. An illustrator for an advertising firm in Helsinki by day, his erotic drawings were done behind his locked bedroom door at night. With much of his work stolen by unscrupulous international publishers, he went to Los Angeles in 1956 to reclaim his work, then published in what were known as beefcake magazines. It’s at this point that the film goes off the rails, portraying Los Angeles at the time of his visit as it might have been at a Gay Pride parade in the 1970s with leather men and half-naked beach boys walking hand-in-hand down the street and mingling at pool parties with approving policemen nodding and winking. In 1956, Los Angeles was no more liberated than Helsinki.

Where the film really excels is in presenting the artist’s story without going into details about his work that might offend sensitive audiences. His more graphic work is displayed only once late in the film when he shows it to his disapproving sister.

By the 1980s, Tom of Finland’s above-ground work was being exhibited in museums and in coffee table art books, while his pornographic pictures were still being sold in magazines in adult bookstores. In 2014, the Finnish Postal Service issued three erotic first-class stamps showcasing his work. They became the best-selling stamps in the country’s history.

The film’s coda states that Touko Laaksonen (the artist’s real name) died in 1991, Tom of Finland lives.

Kino Lorber’s release of Tom of Finland is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

Also available from Kino Lorber is the Blu-ray upgrade of Bill Duke’s 1993 comedy The Cemetery Club. Released a year after TV’s The Golden Girls ended its storied run, the film features Ellen Burstyn, Olympia Dukakis, and Diane Ladd as recent widows who become closer after the deaths of their husbands than they were when their husbands were alive. It’s great fun for a while, but soon becomes tiresome. Nevertheless, it’s a fine showcase for the three stars, ably assisted by Danny Aiello as Burstyn’s new man and Lainie Kazan as a zany much-married friend.

Lionsgate’s Blu-ray upgrade of Ken Russell’s 1987 film Gothic features an informative commentary track by film historian Matthew Melia and Russell’s widow, Lisi. It’s as fascinating as the film itself, one of two films of the era revolving around the haunted summer of 1815 in which Mary Shelley first conceived of Frankenstein while staying at Lord Byron’s villa in Switzerland. The other is the more scholarly Haunted Summer released the following year, directed by Ivan Passer from the novel by Anne Edwards who co-wrote the screenplay with Lewis John Carlino.

The Russell film gives writing credit to Byron and Shelley along with screenwriter Stephen Volk. Byron and Shelley are played in the film by Gabriel Byrne and Julian Sands, while Mary is played by Natasha Richardson, her stepsister Claire by Miriam Cyr, and Dr. Polidari, Byron’s personal physician, is played by Timothy Spall. The Passer film, still only available on standard DVD, gives us Philip Anglim, Eric Stoltz, Alice Krige, Laura Dern, and Alex Winter in those roles. Both are interesting takes on the same drug and sex-filled summer.

ClassicFlix has released Blu-ray upgrades of two Gary Cooper films from the 1940s,

1944’s Casanova Brown reunites Cooper with his Pride of the Yankees director, Sam Wood, and co-star, Teresa Wright. Wright’s mother is played by Patricia Collinge, who also played her mother in The Little Foxes and Shadow of a Doubt.

This was the fourth film version of a creaky play about a man who learns that his former wife has given birth to a baby he didn’t know she was carrying on the eve of his planned wedding to another woman. Cooper in naïve Ball of Fire mode and Frank Morgan in befuddled The Shop Around the Corner mode as his prospective father-in-law, make it easy to take, but everyone concerned has done far better work.

More impressive is 1947’s Along Came Jones, given a 4K restoration, which makes the lightweight western look better than it has since its initial release. The film, produced by Cooper, gives him a laid-back laconic cowboy role that fits him like a glove. Loretta Young, Dan Duryea, and William Demarest are along for the ride in this tale of mistaken identity.

Available on standard DVD only, the 2013 PBS production of Live from Lincoln Center: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel is a special treat. Done as a concert, it’s really the whole show performed on stage with full orchestra and sparkling performances from Kelli O’Hara as Julie, Nathan Gunn as Billy, Jessie Mueller as Carrie, Jason Danieley as Mr. Snow, and Stephanie Blythe as Cousin Nellie. Kate Burton has the non-singing role of Mrs. Mullin and John Cullum has the non-singing role of the star keeper. Audra McDonald, who won her first Tony as Carrie in the 1994 Broadway revival, is the host.

This week’s new releases include Wonder and Roman J. Israel, Esq.

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