New This Week
Leave No Trace is one of the rare films to receive a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Director Debra Granik’s first narrative film since 2010’s Winter’s Bone, which made a star of Jennifer Lawrence, Leave No Trace has the potential to do the same for New Zealand actress Thomasin McKenzie.
Although McKenzie is 18, she is highly effective playing a 13-girl-old girl who at the beginning of the film is living with her father off the land in a large urban park outside of Portland, Oregon. We gradually learn that the father, expertly played by Ben Foster, is an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD. The two are rescued and brought to a Christmas tree farm where they are given a house in exchange for the father’s work on the farm, but will Foster’s reentry to civilization last?
The film is both esthetically pleasing with its lush landscapes and emotionally gripping with its depiction of a tortured soul and his impressionable daughter.
Leave No Trace is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
The second film in a planned trilogy, Sicario: Day of the Soldado lacks the moral compass provided in the original Sicario by Emily Blunt’s character who was removed from the project by director Stefano Sellima when he was brought onto the project to replace Denis Villeneuve who had to withdraw from the project due to the scheduling of his films Arrival and Blade Runner 2049.
Between the original and the follow-up film, writer Taylor Sheridan gave us Hell or High Water for which he was nominated for an Oscar and Wind River, both of which were among the best films of their years. I’m sorry to say that this film, compelling as it may be from scene to scene, is not in the same league. There are no heroes in this one in which CIA agent Josh Brolin orders Sicario (hitman) Benicio Del Toro to murder the teenage daughter of a drug czar who witnessed a CIA killing and when he refuses leads a team to go after both him and the girl. Equally unsettling is the trajectory of the young soldado (soldier) played by Elijah Rodriguez whose character may be the center of the third film in the trilogy if it is ever made.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Criterion has released a restored edition of Cornel Wilde’s 1966 film The Naked Prey.
Based on a real-life incident in which a trapper was pursued by Blackfoot Indians in Wyoming, the locale of The Naked Prey was changed to South Africa because filming was less expensive there. Instead of playing a fur trapper, Wilde plays an elephant hunter and his pursuers native tribesmen.
Wilde, an Oscar-nominated actor for playing Chopin in 1945’s A Song to Remember, turned to directing with 1955’s Storm Fear in which he starred opposite his wife Jean Wallace. Their most successful on-screen pairing came with 1963’s Sword of Lancelot in which he played Lancelot to her Guinevere and Brian Aherne’s King Arthur. Wilde is the name player in The Naked Prey which shares plot elements with such films as 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game and 1933’s Island of Lost Souls. This highly suspenseful film was the most successful of Wilde’s directorial efforts.
Extras, including an audio commentary by film scholar Stephen Prince, are imported from the 2007 DVD.
Like The Farmer’s Daughter reviewed last week, The Spiral Staircase was another film David O. Selznick purchased for Ingrid Bergman and, like that film, when Bergman wasn’t interested, he sold the property to RKO.
RKO produced The Spiral Staircase starring Dorothy McGuire in place of Bergman in 1946, the year before The Farmer’s Daughter. Unlike the latter film, Robert Siodmak’s classic film noir set in 1916 did not revert to the Selznick library but has been given an equally stellar release by Kino Lorber, this one a 4K restoration.
McGuire plays a young woman rendered mute when she witnessed the horrific deaths of her parents. Now a paid companion to a bedridden old lady, the sublime Ethel Barrymore, she is in danger of becoming the next victim of a serial killer of young women with “afflictions.” The killer may be one of Barrymore’s two sons (George Brent, Gordon Oliver), her doctor (Kent Smith), or someone else close to her. The impeccable cast includes Rhonda Fleming as Brent’s secretary, Elsa Lanchester as the cook, and Sara Allgood as Barrymore’s nurse.
Barrymore was billed over the title with McGuire and Brent, but this time succeeded in being nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, losing to Anne Baxter in The Razor’s Edge.
The commentary by film historian Imogen Sara Smith is largely informative, but she is fuzzy on Oscar history. She says that McGuire was nominated for and won a supporting actress Oscar for 1947’s Gentleman’s Agreement. No, she was nominated for Best Actress, losing to Loretta Young in The Farmer’s Daughter. Celeste Holm was nominated in support and won for Gentleman’s Agreement, which also took that year’s Best Picture Oscar.
Kino Lorber has also released a Blu-ray upgrade of Carol Reed’s 1956 circus drama Trapeze starring Burt Lancaster as a circus legend, Tony Curtis as his apprentice, and Gina Lollobrigida as the woman who comes between them in this highly entertaining production filmed at the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris. It was the third highest grossing film of its year. Reed was nominated for a DGA award. Lancaster and Curtis quickly re-teamed for 1957’s Sweet Smell of Success.
Film historian Kat Ellinger provides the audio commentary.
As if that wasn’t enough, Kino Lorber has also released 4K Blu-ray restorations of the classic TV movies The Night Stalker from 1972 and The Night Strangler from 1973. Darren McGavin stars in both.
The first is about a vampire killing young women in Las Vegas. The second is about a 144-year-old alchemist in Portland, Oregon. Although most people prefer the former, I prefer the latter. It’s less silly, its locale, set in the Portland underground, is less familiar and the supporting cast, which includes Wally Cox, John Carradine, Margaret Hamilton, and Al Lewis along with stars McGavin and Simon Oakland, is a gem.
This week’s new releases include Eighth Grade and the Blu-ray upgrade of The Official Story.