“You Were Never Really Here” (2017, Lionsgate) Burnt to a haunted cinder by a lifetime of unspeakable violence, Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) purges a ceaseless death wish by stalking and murdering those who traffic in underage girls. Writer-director Lynne Ramsay‘s adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ novella reads, at first blush, like a garden-variety revenge thriller, and displays all its hallmarks – grisly violence, a brooding anti-hero, even a conspiracy involving heads of state. As such, they are suitably intense and unpleasant (a hammer is involved) but not unlike anything in a dozen revenge/vigilante movies (like the recent “Death Wish” remake). Thankfully, Ramsay, who has shown a keen understanding of the roots of neglect and cruelty in her previous films (“We Really Need to Talk About Kevin”), is equally interested in the state of Joe’s mind, which is wracked by fear and regret and hallucinations, doled out in fragmented close-ups and Joe Bini‘s editing, set on edge by Jonny Greenwood’s score and shouldered by Phoenix, whose talent for portraying pain gets an exceptional showcase here. With Judith Roberts (“Eraserhead”) and Ekaterina Samsonov, who, as Phoenix’s mom and the focus of a disastrous rescue mission, respectively are heartbreakingly fragile counterweights to his burly engine of destruction.
“King of Hearts” (1966, Cohen Media Group) Confectionary French comedy with Alan Bates as a soldier assigned to defuse a bomb left in a French town by German forces during World War I. Attempting to evade capture, he assumes the identity of an inmate (the “King of Hearts”) in the local asylum, but discovers, to his dismay, that the other prisoners are intent on crowning their new ruler in their own unique way. Nearly every aspect of the film finds director Phillippe De Broca (“That Man from Rio”) swinging for the fences (especially the social commentary), which may work for fans of broad farce, though the relationship between Bates and Genevieve Bujold, as an inmate whom he is betrothed, has the right mix of odd and charming that seems to evade the rest of the picture. A flop upon its release, “King of Hearts” enjoyed a long second life on the cult/midnight movie circuit in the 1970s (including a five-year run at the Central Square Cinema in Boston); Cohen’s Blu-ray includes with the ever-classy Bujold and cinematographer Pierre Lhomme, as well as commentary by KPCC’s Wade Major.
“I Called Him Morgan” (2016, MVD) Melancholy and frequently moving documentary is, at its core, about the complex relationship between jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan and his common-law wife/music Helen More, who fatally shot him during an argument between sets at a New York club in 1972. The how and when of the incident is fairly open and shut, but there’s a lot more to the why than what’s listed on the police report: Morgan, a prodigy who signed with Blue Note while still a teenager, was a driven performer whose seemingly limitless potential was consistently upended by his drug habit, while More – a no-nonsense figure who once went toe to toe with Miles Davis – recognized and supported Morgan (among other musicians) when his addiction had put his career into a tailspin. What brought them to that fateful encounter in 1972 is detailed in new interviews with some of Morgan’s contemporaries, including Wayne Shorter, but the most compelling stories, however, come from a 1996 interview with More recorded one month before her death. More is equal parts intense, defensive and baffled by the outcome of that altercation; how she got there is as much of a mystery to her as it is to the audience, and Swedish director Kasper Collin does well to let all parties speak their perspective without interjecting editorial or judgment. Morgan himself is only present through beautiful photographs and brief film clips, which do much to underscore his image as a figure more myth than reality, a prime example and cautionary tale of the joys and pitfalls of a life spent in pursuit of the highest achievements.
“Freak Show” (2017, Shout Factory) Disaster appears to loom when free-thinking gay teenager Alex Lawther (“The End of the F***ing World”) is dispatched to a conservative Florida town and a high school stocked with intolerant types. But Lawther is blessed with a razor-sharp wit, a seemingly limitless glam wardrobe (courtesy of Colleen Atwood and Sarah Laux) and most importantly, a steadfast belief in his inalienable right to be himself. Trudie Styler‘s directorial debut isn’t perfect – for every eviscerating quip in scripter Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazzo’s adaptation of James St. James‘ novel, there’s a stock character (Abigail Breslin‘s venomous homecoming queen, who quotes Leviticus) or pat resolution – but she has visual flair (bolstered considerably by cinematographer Dante Spinotti) and a truly game supporting cast that includes Bette Midler as Lawther’s mom, Larry Pine, Laverne Cox and AnnaSophia Robb (Ian Nelson, as a jock who befriends Lawther, gets a brief and memorable showcase in a take on the dance contest from “Pulp Fiction”). All do well in delivering the film’s message of tolerance and self-acceptance, both of which need all the help they can get of late.
“The Reincarnation of Peter Proud” (1975, Kino Lorber) Plagued by recurring dreams about a man killed while swimming, college professor Michael Sarrazin discovers that these visions may be flashbacks to his previous life as the murdered man. Bing Crosby’s production company oversaw this attempt to tap into the proto-New Age movement of the 1970s, which benefits from a wealth of professionals behind the camera, including director J. Lee Thompson and composer Jerry Goldsmith and a solid cast that includes the late Margot Kidder and Jennifer O’Neill as the wife and daughter, respectively of the dead man. Unfortunately, their efforts have to compete with Max Erlich‘s script (adapted from his own novel), which is loaded with risible dialogue and behavior towards Kidder (who’s saddled with terrible old age makeup). Kino’s Special Edition Blu-ray offers a new HD master of the film and a vast amount of promotional material, including trailers, TV spots, posters and home video covers, as well as enthusiastic commentary by historian Lee Gambin.
(Apologies for the rotating list of names for this iteration of the column, which has gone by What You Could Be Watching and What To Watch at various times. The latter was just adopted by the New York Times for their weekend recommendation blog, so in the interest of avoiding litigation, let’s go with Watch It! That is, until whoever is using that title comes calling. – pg)