Movies Till Dawn: What You Could Be Watching This Weekend (Short and Sweet and a Little Dark Edition)

Ronin” (Arrow Video, 1998) Robert De Niro and Jean Reno lead a team of international mercenaries in retrieving a briefcase from nefarious types. As is often the case, the mission is not what it seems, and De Niro and Reno must pursue both the case and the person responsible for their betrayal. Well-crafted thriller, highlighted by a jaw-dropping and meticulously constructed car chase through Paris; the script, co-written by David Mamet (using the pseudonym Richard Weisz), is a textbook example of finely calibrated dialogue and character construction, which the cast – including Natascha McElhone, Sean Bean, Jonathan Pryce and Stellan Skarsgard– handles with equal precision. “Ronin” also provided a remarkable comeback vehicle for director John Frankenheimer (“The Manchurian Candidate”), whose talent for crafting tension in performance and action set pieces alike are in full display here. Arrow’s Blu-ray offers a 4K scan and restoration, as well an array of new and previously released extras, including commentary by Frankenheimer, an alternate ending, interviews with the cast and crew and an excellent 1994 tribute to De Niro from Quentin Tarantino.

Night Moves” (1975, Warner Archives Collection) A case involving the missing daughter (Melanie Griffith) of an actress provides former Oakland Raiders running back turned private eye Gene Hackman with much-needed work, as well as an opportunity to turn his back on his foundering marriage (to Susan Clark) and head to Florida. Once there, he finds that shadows produced by East Coast sunshine are just as murky as the Los Angeles variety, and provide cover for a host of sins, from a smuggling scheme to a string of cruelly casual murders. Often mentioned in the same breath as “The Long Goodbye” as a prime example of post-Vietnam/Watergate noir, Arthur Penn‘s bitter drama also echoes the Robert Altman film’s shift in focus from the crime to the personalities caught up in its wake; things actually get worse for Hackman and once he locates Griffith in Florida, and the film’s final image – a speedboat, circling aimlessly in water above a deadly wreck – is about as apt a metaphor for lives beyond repair as one could hope for. Hackman’s forgotten football hero underscores his talent for mining the wounded core of movie tough guys, and he’s well abetted by singer Jennifer Warnes as an equally battered femme fatale, a young and creepy James Woods, and character actors Harris Yulin (terrific on “Ozark”), Edward Binns and Kenneth Mars. WAC’s Blu-ray is a 4K scan and restoration and includes a vintage profile of director Penn (“Bonnie and Clyde”).

The Loved One” (1965, Warner Archives Collection) Naïve Englishman Robert Morse arrives in Los Angeles, and discovers that the city’s bright sunshine temporarily blinds newcomers to the delusion, corruption and outright insanity that fuels its residents. Based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh, Tony Richardson‘s coal-black comedy was billed as the picture “with something to offend everyone,” and the script by Terry Southern (“Dr. Strangelove”) and Christopher Isherwood gleefully mows down a herd of sacred cows, from American crassness and British pomposity to religion, the military, Hollywood and greed in any form. A half-century of bad taste in popular culture has blunted some of its nasty bite, but its most outrageous moments are still blithely rude: fey embalmer Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger) and his monstrously obese mother (Ayllene Gibbons); crazed, grasping minister Jonathan Winters arranging an orgy with military officers at his funeral home in exchange for rockets to launch bodies into space; and Margaret Leighton nearly murdering husband Milton Berle over the proper disposal of their dead pet. The cast is uniformly in on the joke, and there’s a barrage of cameos, including Liberace, Tab Hunter, Lionel Stander (teamed with Bernie Kopell!) and Paul Williams, all playing grotesques to the hilt. The surreal tone is aided by some of Los Angeles’ most overripe locations, including Greystone Mansion, Greenacre Estates, the Fish Shanty restaurant on La Cienega, and Forest Lawn (and hapless cosmetologist Anjanette Comer‘s condemned house is just a few miles from where I write this in Sherman Oaks). WAC’s Blur-ray includes a making-of featurette with Morse, Comer, Williams and cinematographer Haskell Wexler.

Slack Bay” (2016, Kino Lorber) Another (literal) dip into dark comic waters, here from French writer-director Bruno Dumont, who returns to the sort of morbid and absurd material as his 2014 film “Li’l Quinquin.” Here, as before, we have dark deeds and curious family dynamics playing out against the backdrop of Dumont’s home turf – northern France – though in “Slack Bay,” it’s 1910, and the families in question are the Van Peteghems, a wealthy gaggle of self-impressed buffoons (including Juliette Binoche, clearly enjoying herself as a particularly silly aunt), and the earthy Bruforts, whose ferry service provides a humble distraction from their penchant for murdering and occasionally eating tourists. Trouble seems to arise when the families clash over a possible romance between the eldest Brufort boy and an androgynous cousin of the Van Peteghems, but Dumont’s interest lies more in keeping audiences off-balance with tangents into surrealism (a policeman carried skyward by an inflating uniform), class criticism and violence, all vying for attention against a placid seaside backdrop. For the most part, he succeeds, which is the picture’s chief appeal. Kino’s Blu-ray includes interviews with Dumont and Binoche.

“Property is No Longer a Theft” (1973, Arrow) Refused for a loan by his own employers for a lack of equity, bank teller Flavio Bucci (“Suspiria”) declares wealth and possessions a moral crime, and carries out a destructive campaign against corrupt and opulent butcher Ugo Tognazzi (“La Cage au Folles”) that begins with the theft of his beloved carving knife and ultimately includes his mistress (Daria Nicolodi). With an array of regular collaborators at his side – Bucci, composer Ennio Morricone (who contributes a particularly berserk score) and cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller – director Elio (“The Assassin“) Petri is free to dip liberally into an array of political and cultural schools of thought (Marxism, anarchism, Pop Art, experimental theater) for this heady and proudly weird satire on the notion of ownership and worth; it’s alternately mordantly sharp, exuberantly silly and baffling (and sometimes all three), but above all, a unique film experience like all of Petri’s work. Arrow’s Blu-ray – the first English-language release for “Property” – includes interviews with Bucci, producer Claudio Mancini and makeup artist Pierantonio Mecacci.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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