New This Week
Green Book is an Oscar-winning film in the tradition of Wings, It Happened One Night, In the Heat of the Night, Midnight Cowboy, The Sting, Chariots of Fire, Rain Man, Driving Miss Daisy, Chicago, and The King’s Speech in which two disparate characters bond over unusual circumstances. As was the case with It Happened One Night, Rain Man, and Driving Miss Daisy, those circumstances take place largely on the road. Peter Farrelly’s film is not, as its detractors claim, a “white savior movie.”
As in all ten of the previous films cited, the two characters help each other unlike in the so-called white savior films in which a white person, through whose sacrifices, a black person is saved. Examples of that type of film include Glory, Amistad, Finding Forrester, Half Nelson, Gran Torino, The Blind Side, and The Help.
The green book referenced in Green Book was officially called “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” an annual guidebook for African-American road-trippers during the Jim Crow era from 1936 through 1966. It was published by African-American New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green, whose life story might make an interesting film of its own. This is not that film, though. The book plays a very small part in this one about a road trip through the deep south in which a distinguished black musician hires a Copacabana Night Club bouncer on hiatus to drive him to a series of engagements. They use the green book to find a place to stay in just one scene in the film.
Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen is the Italian-American chauffer, Tony Vallelonga aka Tony Lip. Oscar winner Mahershala Ali is classical pianist Doctor Don Shirley who hires him. Although the film has comic overtones and was pretty much sold on those moments, its best scenes are those involving Dr. Shirley’s confrontation with bigotry and the gentlemanly way in which he deals with it from being told he can’t try on a suit in a men’s store but could have it altered if he buys it first to being told he can’t use the restroom in an establishment in which he is performing but must use the outhouse instead to not being able to be seated in the restaurant in another venue where he is the headliner.
Told from Vallelonga’s point of view, the film was co-written by his son, one of the film’s Oscar-winning producers. The film unfortunately deals in a lot of stereotypes from Tony’s insulated Italian-American family to the largely bigoted Southern cops to the clueless hotel and restaurant managers, but the bond that develops between Vallelonga and Shirley before your eyes is beautiful to behold and leads to one of last year’s few genuinely moving happy endings.
Green Book is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the second in a planned series of five prequels to the Harry Potter series. The first one, 2016’s Fantasitc Beasts and Where to Find Them, was set in New York in the 1920s. This one, taking place immediately following the events in that one, is set mainly in London and Paris. It’s mainly for devotees of the Harry Potter franchise of which there are millions. It’s not likely to draw you in if you aren’t one. Please be forewarned that the spare plot it contains tends to be overwhelmed by the film’s CGI (computer-generated imagery), which dominates it.
Eddie Redmayne is the hero. Katharine Waterston, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kazan, Jud Law, Johnny Depp, and others weave in and out of the narrative. It was directed by Peter Yates, who also directed the previous Fantastic Beasts film as well as the last four of the Harry Potter films.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Gindelwald is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
New Blu-ray upgrades include Someone to Watch Over Me, Year of the Dragon, The Prisoner, and The Kid Brother.
Ridley Scott’s 1987 thriller, Someone to Watch Over Me, had the misfortune of opening three weeks after Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction, which used up all the oxygen in the marital-infidelity thriller subgenre popular at the time.
Scott, whose 1979 film Alien had won an Oscar for Visual Effects, and whose 1982 film Blade Runner had been nominated in that category, famously said at the time that he made Someone to Watch Over Me because he wanted actors to win Oscars for his films instead of the special effects team. None of his actors were even nominated, but the film did receive a nomination for its cinematography from the ASC (American Society of Cinematographers).
Tom Berenger, Mimi Rogers, Lorraine Bracco, Jerry Orbach, and John Rubinstein are some of those actors. All are very good, especially Berenger as the lustful cop on the heels of his Oscar nomination for Platoon. The Shout Select Blu-ray provides insightful interviews with the film’s writer and cinematographer.
Michael Cimino’s 1985 film, Year of the Dragon, was his first film since the 1980 critical and box-office disaster Heaven’s Gate. Set in New York’s Chinatown, Mickey Rourke is the hero cop and John Lone, in a Golden Globe-nominated performance, is the bad guy. With a script co-written by Oliver Stone, this is prime Cimino given an excellent Warner Archive release on Blu-ray.
Peter Glenville’s 1955 film The Prisoner earned Alec Guinness runner-up status at that year’s New York Film Critics balloting as the imprisoned Catholic Cardinal in a Communist country loosely based on Hungary’s Cardinal Mindszenty. Guinness, Jack Hawkins as his interrogator, and the film itself were nominated for BAFTAs. It remains a one-of-a-kind filmic experience. The Arrow Academy Blu-ray includes a video appreciation of Guinness.
Harold Lloyd’s 1927 film The Kid Brother, given a 4K restoration by Criterion, is the first Lloyd classic to make its way to Blu-ray following the 2014 release of 1925’s The Freshman. Lloyd is at his best as the taken-for-granted third son of the town sheriff who proves himself a hero in one of his most popular films. Tons of extras are imported from the 2005 DVD releases of the Lloyd catalogue. The comic genius’ popularity rivaled that of Chaplin and Keaton is his day.
This week’s new releases include Mary Poppins Returns and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.