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

Frank Serpico ” (2018, IFC Films) Well-crafted doc traces the past and present of its subject, the New York cop and whistleblower who served as the basis for the 1973 biopic starring Al Pacino. Director Antonio D’Ambrosio does a fine job detailing Serpico’s path from immigrant kid to undercover narcotics cop and in particular, the reasons he called out his own department on corruption charges. Commentary by writer Luc Sante and John Turturro lend perspective, but the film works best when it lets Serpico himself, now in his 80s and with trademark beard intact, and still passionate over the reasons he risked his life and career, is at center stage. MPI’s DVD includes deleted scenes and making-of footage; Brendan Canty provided the score.

Seijin Suzuki: The Early Years, Vol. 1 – Seijun Rising” (1958-1965, Arrow Video) Quintet of late ’50s and early ’60s efforts by cult favorite Suzuki, whose massive c.v. is getting a deluxe retrospective from Arrow. The titles compiled here are less eclectic than some of his better-known titles, like the unbridled crime pics “Branded to Kill” or “Tokyo Drifter,” but the roots of his style are evident in the hot-blooded heroes of “The Boy Who Came Back” (1958), which features his first collaboration with future repertory players Akira Kobayashi and the one-of-a-kind Jo Shishido, as well as “Teenage Yazuka” (1962) and “The Incorrigible” (1963). The oddest of the five, and the sole color title, is “The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Path” (1961), about a student who joins a circus troupe; the addition of conflicted youth, romance and gangsters into the mix doesn’t tip the scales, but rather coalesces into a whole that is uniquely Suzuki. Arrow’s multi-disc set includes informative commentary by Midnight Eye’s Jasper Sharp.

It Takes from Within” (2014, First Run Features) Unsettling experimental feature about a couple attending a funeral in a small town; unspecified conflicts drive the pair apart, and it’s here where the film takes leave of any narrative structure in favor of a barrage of nightmare images: figures crawling in pools of light or blood, mystery figures who may be future projections of the couple (or alternate versions), bodies entwined in embrace or death. These sequences, anchored by a jarring ambient soundtrack, Jason Crow’s starkly beautiful black-and-white photography, and hints of emotional pain beneath a gruesome veneer, suggest an affinity for the early films of David Lynch, but writer-director Lee Eubanks’s film has enough heft and (more importantly) gristle to stand apart from its influences. First Run’s DVD includes wry commentary by Eubanks, who neatly sidesteps any explanation forced on his project.

Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961, Kino Lorber) The judge (Spencer Tracy) and opposing counsel (Richard Widmark and Maximilian Schell) presiding at the trial of four German justices and lawyers, all accused of crimes against humanity during the Nazi regime, discover the painful moral complexity of assigning blame for atrocities committed during wartime. Issues of complicity – essentially, who knew what was happening to whom – are the thorny heart of this moving and still relevent drama directed by Stanley Kramer and written by Abby Mann, who adapted his own teleplay. Both do exceptional work in turning what is essentially a legal debate in a single courtroom into an intense emotional battleground; they are aided immeasurably by the uniformly fine performances, most notably Burt Lancaster as a tormented German judge, Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland as victims of Nazi persecution, and a brief turn by Marlene Dietrich as a German general’s widow. The film earned seven Oscar nods, including Best Picture and Director, and won two (Schell and Mann); Kino’s Blu-ray includes interviews with both men and with Kramer’s wife, actress Karen Sharpe.

Liquid Sky” (1982, Vinegar Syndrome) Surrounded by preening creeps and hangers-on, embittered NYC model Anne Carlisle (who also co-wrote the abrasive script) begins her first meaningful relationship with the occupant of a tiny flying saucer, whose appetite for the chemicals produced by heroin use or intercourse provides her with not only a means of getting rid of the goons in her life, but also something like empowerment. Audacious New Wave weirdie was a favorite on the midnight movie circuit thanks to its mix of ’50s science fiction and outrageous Downtown aesthetic; viewed from three-plus decades’ distance, both elements, along with a the array of low-fi, Day-Glo visual effects, help preserve the film’s punk-from-outer-space style, though the casual instances of assault on the female characters might turn off some viewers. Vinegar Syndrome’s restored DVD/Blu-ray includes a lengthy retrospective featurette that includes interviews with Carlisle, director Slava Tsukerman (who also provides commentary) and many of the cast and crew and a staggering amount of rehearsal and casting footage (which is often more transgressive than the film itself), as well as numerous trailers, a 2017 Q&A at the NYC Alamo Drafthouse and liner notes by Samm Deighan.

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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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