MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on DVD: Red Riding Trilogy, Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, Errol Flynn Adventures … and more

CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK: NEW

The Red Riding Trilogy (Four Stars)

U.K.; Julian Jarrold/James Marsh/Anand Tucker, 2009 (IFC Films)

Easily one of the most ambitious and best films of 2009 is writer Tony Grisoni‘s three part adaptation of David Peace’s Red Riding novels.

This is noir times three, with the three films spanning a decade from 1974 to 1983, following a series of hideous Yorkshire murders and crimes of corruption. The trilogy begins in chaos with a series of sex murders and a young reporter’s (Andrew Garfield) doomed investigation (Red Riding 1974, directed by Julian Jarrold). (Four Stars)

It continues with Red Riding 1980 (James Marsh) (Four Stars), as the corruption deepens, a good cop (Paddy Considine) searches for truth, and the police seem even more involved. And it ends with Red Riding 1983 (Anand Tucker) where all mysteries seem solved, a strange Bunuelian cleric (Peter Mullan) comes forth and a bit of uplift finally pierces the Yorkshire brutalism and gloom.

Tony Grisoni (the writer of Terry Gilliam’s sadly underrated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) adapted all of these, and though the directorial style changes, the voice (Grisoni’s and Peace’s) remains strong. This is a great film, an epic of evil and madness, and a supreme example of the high cinematic and dramatic literacy of the best British TV. For buffs, it’s an absolute must-have set.

Extras: Julian Jarrold Interview; “Making of” documentaries on Red Riding 1980 and Red Riding 1983; deleted scenes; TV spots; booklet with a David Thomson essay, arguing that Red Riding is “better than The Godfather” (I don’t think so) and a dialogue with novelist Peace, scenarist Grisoni, directors Jarrold, Marsh and Tucker and producer Andrew Eaton.

PICK OF THE WEEK: CLASSIC

Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King (Three and a Half Stars)

Germany: Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, 1972 (Facets)

Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, a real one-of-a-kind cineaste, released this thoroughly bizarre, insanely stylish bio-epic about mad King Ludwig of Bavaria and his life of voluptuous abandon and super-aesthetic excess, the same year that Luchino Visconti brought out his own Ludwig, with Helmut Berger prancing and frowning as the mad king, and Trevor Howard as a dour, intense composer Richard Wagner.

This one, much less expensive, fared better with critics, and was even a winner of the Oscar for best costume design and the German Film Award for best film and best screenplay (Syberberg). But both the Syberberg and the Visconti, are powerful, crazy, unique works — different from all other historical movies and from each other as well.

They share a common theme: Love, sex and art vs. politics and war, and they’re both about madmen trying to create their own worlds and destroying themselves in the process. They also both have a lot of Wagner on the soundtrack, which is all to the good. The visual style of Syberberg’s Ludwig is quite unique, peculiar and often jaw-dropping: each scene played out in mostly static but gorgeous tableaux against brilliantly colored, lush backdrops fashioned from projected photos of period 19th century style paintings, color photographs or paintings of Ludwig’s famous palaces.

Harry Baer, of the R. W. Fassbinder troupe, plays Ludwig, and there are a lot of other Fassbinder people too — including cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann, who later shot Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Peter Kern in multiple roles, acting like a man who badly wants to audition for the parts of both writer Franz Liebkind and director Roger Debris in Mel BrooksThe Producers. (Roger was the musical comedy Broadway auteur who said of Liebkind’s adoring Springtime for Hitler script, “That whole third act has got to go. They’re losing the war! It’s depressing!” )

Syberberg went on to make two other bizarre films about German history and culture with the same operatic bravura and the same stunning photo-tableaux visual style. Karl May was about the weird bestselling German author of American western novels like Old Shatterhand, and the famed Our Hitler, was about the mad killer/tyrant Adolf, who unfortunately tried to create his new world by destroying the old real one — a film which ravished critic Susan Sontag and became a special project of Francis Coppola. All three are available from Facets in Syberberg-approved editions and are all highly recommended.

I’ve always thought though, there should have been a third Ludwig: “Ludwig in Love,” written and directed by Brooks, with Gene Wilder as Ludwig (his turn to do “It’s good to be the king!”) , Brooks himself as Wagner, Dom De Luise and Harvey Korman as sneaky courtier/advisors, Anne Bancroft as Lola Montes, and Sid Caesar as Hitler.

They could have re-used Syberberg’s backdrop photos, and sets and costumes, and maybe Visconti’s too. Imagine Wilder and Brooks, singing “Tannhauser” together like Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in “What’s Opera Doc?!” Tell me that wouldn’t be genius! Anyway, it could get more laughs than Spaceballs. (In German with English subtitles.)

PICK OF THE WEEK: BLU-RAY

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (Blu-ray) (Three Stars)

U.S.; Albert Lewin, 1951 (Kino)

Director-writer Albert Lewin (The Picture of Dorian Gray) was a supreme cinema aesthete, a highly self-conscious and art-loving artist who loved to plunge us into the feverish imaginary worlds of painting, literature, music and sexual passion. And Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is, as Martin Scorsese blurbs on the cover, “a strange and wonderful dream.”

Ava Gardner is Pandora Reynolds, a femme fatale on the Spanish coast, who conquers everybody prominent of the male persuasion: stalwart racing driver Nigel Patrick, learned and gentle archeologist/narrator Harold Warrender, and murderous toreador Juan Montalvo (Mario Cabre), Within ten minutes of the start of the movie, rich wastrel Marius Goring of the Powell-Pressburger stock company, has poisoned himself for love of her, and soon the others are killing rivals, bulls and dogs, and throwing cars off cliffs, all to win her prickly heart.

But Pandora can love only one man and he, for God’s sake, is the Flying Dutchman, that Fluegende Hollander beloved of Ludwig’s pet composer, Richard Wagner — Hendrick van der Zee, that captain of stormy mischance and evil destiny, who is doomed to wander forever between the sea-storms, after killing Ava’s look-alike, his faithful wife whom he wrongly thought faithless. (Ah, Desdemon’!). Then, worse, he spoke ill of God before the court, unfortunately during the heyday of the Production Code.

Foolish, foolish man, to tempt the wrath of Breen! Now he must find a woman willing to die for love of him, or, failing that, sail forever, probably breaking the Guinness all-time record for a continuous voyage. But at what cost!

Is all this plausible? Well, take a look at Ava — Lewin thoughtfully includes two (suggested) nude scenes — and ask yourself how much bull you’d sling to win her. Or Mason? It matters not. Dutch (Mason) drops anchor in this Spanish pleasure spot, where we can watch the fateful beach straight down from a Vertigo-like bell tower, and we first see the unhappy wanderer painting Pandora against a di Chirico townscape, before even seeing her. Soon the star-crossed, storm-tossed lovers are quoting Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat to each other and getting ready for the grand desire and the moving finger and final voyage to beat them all. (Gardner, by the way, swipes Patrick from actress Sheila Sim, but Sim had the last laugh. She married Richard Attenborough.)

The first ten minutes or so of Pandora and the Flying Dutchman are pretty lugubrious, a lush but torpid pageant of the all-too-idle rich enlivened only by Goring’s suicide. (Now we know why Lewin needed a smart alec cad like George Sanders around.) But then van der Zee shows up on his crewless ship and kicks the whole movie into high gear. Few actors can do a grand passion and endless torment like Mason can, and, despite his awful destiny, still stay urbane and virile enough for any posh moonlit party or swanky tête-à-tête the director can throw at him.

Granted, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is sort of a nutty movie. But it’s also — as conceived by Lewin, designed by John Bryan and photographed by the great Jack Cardiff (the King of Technicolor) — an uncommonly beautiful one. Cardiff shot this iridescent gem shortly after he made the color masterpieces Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, and shortly before doing another color classic, The African Queen. And this is the 2009 restoration that played at the 2009 Los Angeles TCM Classic Film Festival, where I saw it fantastically in 35 mm. (Despite complaints on IMDB, It looked great both times.) Strange and wonderful indeed! As Marius Goring said in Stairway to Heaven (Powell-Pressburger’s, not Led Zeppelin’s), “one simply cannot live without Technicolor!”

Extras: Documentary El Torero de Cordoba on Manolete; Featurettes; Alternate titles; Photo Gallery.

CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK: BOX SET

Errol Flynn Adventures (Five Discs) (Three and a Half Stars)

U. S.; Raoul Walsh, Lewis Milestone, 1942-45 (TCM/Warner)

Errol Flynn was a genuine Hollywood Golden Age superstar, a natural actor and athlete who lit up the screen in roles like Robin Hood, Captain Blood, and Gentleman Jim Corbett. He was also a bastard, a selfish jerk, a sex-hound and an amoral destructive drunk.

Don‘t take my word for it. Here‘s the word of one of Flynn’s best Hollywood friends, David Niven, who costarred with his buddy in the 1936 Michael Curtiz Charge of the Light Brigade and in the 1938 Edmund Goulding remake of The Dawn Patrol and hung around a lot with him. “The great thing about Errol,” Niven wrote in one of his witty memoirs, “was that you always knew where you stood with him. He always let you down.”

To illustrate, Niven tells the story of an idyllic Hollywood weekend he once spent with Errol and one of Flynn’s innumerable lady friends off Catalina in Flynn‘s motorboat — one of the many, many female conquests who helped create the almost universally understood American catch-phrase “In like Flynn.” (It means just what you think it does.) It was a hot, sunny day and Niven dived in for a swim, as Errol worked his legendary charm on board.

Suddenly Niven heard a motor noise, looked up and was startled to see the boat taking off and sweeping away from him out to sea, as his Australian-born chum smiled and waved him goodbye, apparently convinced that the moment was nigh and that he could score better alone. Niven was miles from shore, with few or no other boats near, but he knew Errol well, knew he wouldn’t see him again for hours, if at all that day. Resigned to his disposable sidekick fate, Niven started swimming toward shore.

An athletic chap, Niven nevertheless grew tired as he swam. It was such a long way to shore. His “friend” hadn’t even had the courtesy to pick him up and drop him off on the beach before sailing off toward another orgasm. Niven’s muscles began to ache. Worried about something, he turned to look behind him. His fears were realized. Almost four decades before Jaws, it was nevertheless Steven Spielberg time off Catalina. Two or more shark fins had taken a bead on Errol Flynn’s best pal. He screamed for help.

This story could then have taken a tragic turn, and Niven might well never have made Around the World in 80 Days or The Pink Panther or won an Oscar for Separate Tables. But then we probably never would have known what really happened, at least as Niven wryly recalls it. (Think of a distraught Errol talking to their other friends: “I told him not to go swimming alone, but you know David. He was such an insistent cuss. Then we just lost sight of him…”)

Instead, the tale becomes a truly great Hollywood story. A yacht was now visible, within rescue distance, and it belonged to Niven’s fellow countryman, the urbane and quite helpful Ronald Colman. Bulldog Drummond saves Phileas Fogg. No Niven snack for the sharks that day. As for Errol, he never told the story himself, but the odds suggest that someplace, somewhere, he was in like Flynn.

What kind of man essentially feeds his best friend to the sharks, so that he can get laid?

Errol Flynn, according to Katz, was born in Tasmania, son of a famous marine biologist, the descendant of real-life Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian (Flynn played him in the low-budget In the Wake of the Bounty). expelled from more schools than Charles Foster Kane, the writer of three somewhat well-regarded books, a good actor with a gift for on-screen heroism and good relations (for a while) with Warners action maestros Michael Curtiz and Raoul Walsh, a famously faithless husband (to Lili Damita, Patrice Wymore) who was arrested in 1942 for statutory rape (and acquitted), a hedonist who drank like his great sodden pal and mentor John Barrymore (and played him in Too Much, Too Soon), and who finally got into heroin and wasted away after making a last rotten film called Cuban Rebel Girls and after the appearance of his ghost-written scandal-laden autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways.

Writer Charles Higham wrote another book recounting wickeder ways, claiming Flynn had sexual affairs with Tyrone Power (whose heart he broke) and Howard Hughes, and that, during the war, he was a Nazi spy. I can believe the former, but not the latter. But still, how many Hollywood stars could you even plausibly suspect of being a Nazi?

As David Niven said, “He always let you down.”

In life maybe. But not in his movies, even in the ‘50s, in late pictures like The Sun Also Rises (where author Hemingway, incredulous, said Flynn stole the show) and John Huston‘s The Roots of Heaven, and especially in his early swashbuckling era in the ‘30s, or in the WW2 adventure days chronicled in this exciting TCM set. Like everybody else, despite myself, I like Errol Flynn because I like his movies. I always get a big thrill when Flynn comes on screen as Robin Hood and in those other Captain Blood-Sea Hawk roles. Jerk or not, he was probably the best Robin of them all: an impudent rascal of a hero, or an insolent hero of a rascal. Take your pick.

What a bastard. What an idol. That’s Hollywood for you.

Includes: Desperate Journey (U.S.; Raoul Walsh, 1942) Three Stars. Lots of fun. Yank bomber pilots and crew, including Flynn, Arthur Kennedy, Alan Hale and the irrepressible Ronald Reagan, race across Germany, pursued by dour Nazi officer Raymond Massey. Definitely tongue in cheek and highly entertaining. When Jack Warner heard years later that Reagan was running for Governor of California, he’s said to have said, “No, No. Errol Flynn for Governor; Ronald Reagan for best friend.” (Or was it Jimmy Stewart for Gov?)

Edge of Darkness (U.S.; Lewis Milestone, 1943) Three Stars. This one has been sort of misunderstood, I feel, as a standard good WW2 movie, typical WW2 leftist Hollywood political stuff, scripted by Robert Rossen and directed by Milestone, disguised as melodrama about a Norwegian fishing village standing up to the Nazis occupiers with British guns. Actually, it’s almost a crazy comedy of sorts, and it’s the pro-war reversal of Milestone’s great WWI anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front.

Flynn and Ann Sheridan are the head partisans, standing up to sadist Nazi Helmut Dantine, and inspiring classy villagers Walter Huston, Ruth Gordon and Judith Anderson to revolt. The movie begins with the village covered with corpses and Charles Dingle, the rapacious brother of The Little Foxes, as the village‘s seeming lone capitalist, raving and ranting to the Nazi investigators.

Soon we see a thrill-packed flashback tale of the masses arming themselves and Nazi oppressors running amok, tossing around the elderly schoolteacher like a beanbag, mocking the Polish prostitute, closing the fishery, raping Ann Sheridan and dying like dogs. (So vile and crazy are these Nazis, they seem capable of raping the dogs and fish as well.) The high point, worthy of Stallone, occurs when the village minister, heretofore the movie‘s most outspoken pacifist, prays at the church, says “Thy will be done” at the altar, marches up to the bell tower and mows down a row of Nazis with a handy machine gun. Milestone and Rossen are excellent moviemakers, which is what keeps you watching, dumbstruck. After making Edge of Darkness, Rossen took a two year sabbatical and then left the Communist Party. Who can blame him?

Northern Pursuit (U.S.); Raoul Walsh, 1943) Two and a Half Stars. The least of these movies. Errol is a Canadian mountie who tries to fool Helmut Dantine, as another even meaner Nazi, into thinking he has German sympathies and will help with Dantine‘s mysterious dogsled expedition. The setup for this goes on forever and the payoff is strictly hack stuff. The last shot at the wedding of Flynn and Jean Sullivan, remarkably, is an obvious “In like Flynn” joke.

Uncertain Glory (U.S.; Raoul Walsh, 1944) Three Stars. This has a bad rep, but I like it. Flynn plays a rare outlaw villain role, a murderer who escapes the guillotine in a bombing raid, is pursued and caught again by Inspector Paul Lukas (fresh from his Watch on the Rhine Oscar) and then has a chance to redeem himself by selling Lukas on Flynn giving himself up and claiming credit for a partisan bridge blowup, thereby saving 100 hostages. Schmaltzy but affecting and one of Flynn‘s best performances.

Objective, Burma! (U.S.; Raoul Walsh, 1945) Four Stars. The one true classic and by far the top movie in this set. Walsh at his absolute action movie best; Flynn at his near best, as the gutsy leader of a group of American paratroopers trapped in Burma and trying to get out. The writers include Ranald MacDougall and two eventual members of the Hollywood Ten, Lester Cole and Alvah Bessie. But there’s no propaganda or political slant, as there is in Edge of Darkness. This is just a terrific war movie about a group going though Hell or danger, as in Air Force, They Were Expendable, The Story of G. I. Joe and A Walk in the Sun.

Henry Hull is the old guy reporter and Warner standby George Tobias is around, along with William Price, Warner Anderson, John Ridgely and Dick Erdman. Very heavy anti-Japanese dialogue, but that seems par for the course for 1945 movie soldiers in a war movie.

Extras: Five Warners Night at the Movies packages, with contemporary trailers, newsreels, music shorts (some directed by Jean Negulesco), drama or comedy shorts (some by Negulesco or Ray Enright), and Looney Tunes (some by Bob Clampett or Frank Tashlin).

OTHER CURRENT AND RECENT DVD RELEASES

Harry Brown (Two and a Half Stars)

U.K.; Daniel Barber, 2009

Harry Brown gives Michael Caine an old lion star role that’s reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s old-tough-guy Walt in Gran Torino. And Caine does a great job with it, playing — with unflappable cool, commanding presence, a touch of sadness and carefully tamped-in rage — an elderly but still dangerous ex-military guy who becomes a free-lance vigilante when confronted with the savage gang violence in his deteriorating London neighborhood.

This is Caine in his element. The star of many top British and American noirs, from The Ipcress File to Get Carter, The Italian Job, Mona Lisa, Blood and Wine, and two Sleuths, he’s unerringly on-the-money, all the way to his last dark shot — though the movie, I think, starts going over the top midway through, and never quite recovers.

A shame, because up to the moment when, for me Harry Brown lost its footing — in the overwrought and over-designed evil-smack-dealer scene that damages the movie’s up-to-then canny mix of realism and heroic fantasy — I was having a fine time. Harry Brown has the mark of Caine, and Caine still has the Maltese Falcon-ish stuff that dreams are made of.

When I first saw him as Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File in 1965, I thought he was too insolent — and of course, I was reacting to the character and his Cockney jabs, rather than the actor. (Alfie wised me up and turned me around.) Bogart was insolent too, and Bogart, with his cynical-idealistic world-weary stare, knowing violence and punchy cracks, is the actor whom Caine often most suggests, despite the British actor’s blue-eyed, curly-haired, semi-pretty boy looks.

His Harry Brown is an unabashed revenge fantasy, and mostly a good one. Caine‘s Harry is triggered into deadly action when his old chess buddy Leonard (David Bradley) is killed by the local youth gangs, and he begins mopping them bloodily up, while a local cop, Alice Frampton (John Mortimer’s daughter Emily), increasingly suspects him, and the whole seedy area begins to explode. Not too original. But it’s done with style and the right chilly mood by commercial specialist and first time director Daniel Barber. And it has despicable villains, and a top-notch dark-side-of-the-street hero in Caine‘s Harry.

Actually, as I get older myself, I find I like revenge fantasies, especially when they have unlikely or seemingly vulnerable heroes or heroines like Harry, Walt or Hit Girl and Kick-Ass (directed by Harry Brown producer Matthew Vaughn). Caine’s Harry, like Clint’s, can go here outside the law, to our temporary delight. But the last half of Harry Brown takes too sharp a turn — for me at least — toward the over-familiar and over-scaled, toward the nutso cliché-clogged flights of those super-slick higher-budgeted revenge thrillers that aren’t lucky enough to have a Harry like Caine’s == doing his stuff in a setting that, at least at first, suggests the horror of the everyday.

Marmaduke (One and a Half Stars)

U. S.; Tom Dey (2010)

The long-lived comic strip about a big, sloppy Great Dane, which started way back in the ’50s, finally comes to the screen, with Owen Wilson doing the voice of Marmaduke, and George Lopez playing his friend Carlos the Cat.

How have we survived without these strange pets all these years? There are also not one, but two love interests for the Marmster: Jezebel the ravishing Collie (Fergie) and Mazie the big-hearted mutt (Emma Stone). Kiefer Sutherland is up to no good once again, as Bosco the villain, Sam Elliott gruff-voices the wild dog Chupadogra, Lee Pace runs around madly as Marmaduke‘s frazzled owner Phil, and there are lots of certifiably cute kids. William H. Macy sullies the memory of Fargo by appearing as a tyrannical veggie/pet food tycoon. (I kept hoping Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare would drop by to put him out of his misery.)

There is a surfing contest with the dogs, and a wild house-party with the dogs, and a cliff-hanging sewer blowup with the dogs, and a dancing jamboree with all the dogs whirling and twirling and shaking their booties. (Since Marmaduke has a propensity throughout to emit huge Great Dane farts at embarrassing moments, this qualifies the dance as a potential horror scene).

Worse, all of the animals (including Steve Coogan, for pity’s sake, as Raisin) continually deliver English dialogue which the humans can’t comprehend, while lip-synching words they can‘t hear. I don’t know about you, but if any of my dogs or dog-friends ever started lip-synching idiotic dialogue in my face (while barking, I suppose), or cutting the cheese while dancing, surfing or throwing wild parties, I would have immediately called the Humane Society.

Owen Wilson hit the doggie jackpot in the touching Marley and Me, where he played the loving, beleaguered owner. Here he tries a virtuoso switch, raising the possibility of a potential Owen Wilson Purina Chow-Chow Film Festival, or perhaps some new movie where Wilson plays both canine and owner, and where they switch personalities, opening the gates for some truly horrendous fart jokes.

Now, I could have ended all this woof-woof folderol by writing the obvious: that the movie is a dog, or that movies are going to the dogs, or that I had a dog of a time watching it, or “Who let the dogs out?“ Or I could have asked: Where is Rin Tin Tin when we really need him? Or even Deputy Dawg. But you’ll have to find those dog-jollies in other reviews. (Believe me, you will.) I have too much respect for the wit and intelligence of the canines I’ve known and sometimes loved, than to use them in a doggie put-down of a turkey like “Marmaduke.” Besides I suspect that any of my old canine friends would have abandoned this arf-barf of a movie after a minute or two, and looked around for a good fire hydrant instead.

9th Company (Also Blu-ray) (Two Discs) (Three Stars)

Russia; Fyodor Bondarchuk, 2005 (Well 60 USA Entertainment)

Unlike many critics I know, I happen to think Sergei Bondarchuk‘s original nine-hour War and Peace is a great movie — not in the way original author Leo Tolstoy is great of course, nowhere near as profound, as spaciously adventurous and brilliantly observant, as historically, emotionally and humanly vast and overwhelming. Director-writer-actor Bondarchuk simply made one of the all time classic period war movies, besides writing the script and playing Pierre, and he gets precious little credit for his feat.

Can he help it if he worked under a Communist tyranny and they handed him 100 million dollars to adapt the greatest novel ever written and he wasn’t martyred like Eisenstein? Bondarchuk’s incredible staging and filming of the Battle of Borodino is — with all apologies to my idol Akira Kurosawa — the most amazing battle scene I’ve ever seen. Seven Samurai is the greater movie. Borodino is the greater battle.

Now comes Bondarchuk’s son Fyodor, also a writer-director-actor of multiple gifts, and he makes a film on the waning days of the Afghanistan-Russian War, based (distantly) on fact: a harsh, brutal essentially anti-war, pro-soldier war movie in the vein of Platoon and Full Metal Jacket and it becomes the all-time biggest-grossing Russian film since Communism fell.

Bondarchuk, who, as the hard-drinking Kholkov, suggests a mix of Bruce Willis and Lee Marvin, is a good actor, good writer, good director, good at everything. After watching one crummy, overwrought, semi-coherent American action or war movie after another recently, it was a pleasure to see something this gripping, this honestly exciting, overplayed a bit but powerfully so. And — remembering that Sergei Bondarchuk scored around the world with War and Peace and failed with the Hollywood Waterloo, and directed precious little the rest of his career — it was a pleasure too to see that his son was inspired to dedicate his very successful film “to my father.”

He’s a worthy son, I think, just as his father was a fine, under-appreciated filmmaker. I will admit that this movie’s muhajadin, marching up the mountain toward the beleaguered 9th company, did look and act a bit like George Romero‘s Living Dead, But the movie — despite some severe historical criticism by detractors — is furiously alive in the way movies by Peckinpah or Aldrich were alive. And movies by Sergei Bondarchuk too, of course. (In Russian, with English subtitles.)

The Evil Dead Limited Edition (Three Stars)

U.S.; Sam Raimi, 1983 (Anchor Bay/Starz)

The Evil Dead, shot by Michigan State guy Raimi and other students, became the scariest movie of 1983, by following the low-budget, high-dread course laid down by George Romero in Night of the Living Dead and followed or elaborated by many others, including David Cronenberg in Shivers, and Peter Jackson in Dead Alive. Some kids are trapped in close quarters. Some unstoppable undead zombies want to kill them. They keep coming and coming. Yaaaagh!

Here, a too-confident quintet face a series of shocks, beginning with the nastiest plant attack ever. Warning: This one is really bloody, really gruesome and doesn’t let up on tension or horror for a second. Extras: Commentaries by Raimi and others, documentaries and featurettes, reunion panel, trailer.

Rocky Road to Dublin (Three Stars)

Ireland; Peter Lennon, 1967 (Icarus)

An excellent documentary about the political contradictions and social dilemmas of 1967 Ireland, written, directed and narrated by Irish journalist Peter Lennon, and beautifully photographed in breezy black and white by the great French cinematographer Raoul Coutard — who took this assignment in between his then-latest gigs for Francois Truffaut (The Bride Wore Black) and Jean-Luc Godard (Weekend).
Among Coutard and Lennon’s coups: a tough boycotted curling match, and an exuberant shot of grinning schoolkids in the street, running after the camera.

The movie, despite threats of censorship, ran seven weeks in Dublin and then disappeared for over forty years, its memory kept alive by prestigious showings elsewhere in Europe, and by its fame as the last film screened at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, before Godard, Truffaut and other directors shut it down in sympathy with the rioting May Paris students and workers. John Huston is one of the interviewees and the music is by the Irish group, the Dubliners, and others. A fine film; it’s good to have it back.

Extras: Paul Duane‘s 2004 documentary The Making of ‘Rocky Road to Dublin’ (Three Stars).

OTHER CURRENT OR RECENT BOX SETS

Poirot: The Movie Collection, Set 5 (Three Discs) (Three Stars)

U.K.; Various Directors, 2008-2010 (Acorn Media)

Agatha Christie’s Belgian super sleuth Hercule Poirot, the unflappable detective with the impeccable suits and egg-shaped head, who relentlessly gathers the clues and juggles his “little grey cells” and in pursuit of murderers from country British manors to exotic climes, found his ideal film proponent, many Christie addicts feel, when the BBC started dramatizing Christie’s novels and stories with the classically-trained stage, film and TV actor David Suchet starring as Poirot.

No murder plot is too ingenious, no trail of evidence is too deceptive, no suspect too (or least) likely, for Suchet‘s Poirot who, better than even Peter Ustinov or Albert Finney, conveys Poirot’s deductive genius as well as his fastidious manners and lovable or maddening eccentricities, while also often gives the infallible crime-unraveler an emotional and psychological depth that other Poirots tend to lack. Since the BBC adaptations of Christie are generally (though not always) the most faithful to Christie’s original plots and characters, they are highly prized by dedicated Agatha-ites and Christie-philes who have no use for the dramatic-comedic blasphemies of Tony Randall’s slapstick Poirot (in Frank Tashlin’s The A. B. C. Murders) or Margaret Rutherford’s dithering Miss Marple (in the travesty ‘60s series).

These are the Christie film murder mysteries that go to the source, and Suchet is the man to guide us there and back again. Here are the three latest BBC Poirots, somewhat revised but not disastrously so, including a splendidly mounted new version of one of her all-time masterpieces, Murder on the Orient Express (a.k.a. Murder in the Calais Coach). May your little gray cells always be in high form, but never as high, of course, as Hercule Poirot’s or David Suchet’s.

Included: Murder on the Orient Express (U. K.; Philip Martin, 2010). Three and a Half Stars. Like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None, The A.B.C. Murders or Crooked House, Orient Express has one of Christie’s most ingenious plots and most radical departures from the detective story norm, and this version by director Philip Martin and scenarist Stewart Harcourt, is beautifully produced, sumptuously shot and brilliantly cast.

Toby Jones makes a particularly odious murder victim and Barbara Hershey, Eileen Atkins and Hugh Bonneville are among the deluxe trainful of suspects and detectives, stranded in the snow on the legendary luxury train.

Even if you’re an admirer of Sidney Lumet’s 1974 all-star movie of Orient Express, with Finney as Poirot, Richard Widmark as the villainous corpse, and Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Jackie Bisset, Anthony Perkins and Lauren Bacall among the Twelve Angry Suspects, you should enjoy this version. The extras include a delicious little travelogue where Suchet takes us aboard the actual Orient Express.

Third Girl (U.K.; Dan Reed, 2008). Two and a Half Stars. One of the late Christies, adapted by Peter Flannery, with Poirot aiding a beleaguered young heiress (Jemima Rooper), in what would have been, in the novel‘s time, the Swingin’ Sixties. With Zoe Wanamaker as Poirot’s inquisitive Christie-ish detective story writer friend, Ariadne Oliver, along with James (“Maurice”) Wilby and Peter Bowles. Not bad, but not too good.

Appointment with Danger (U.K.; Ashley Pearce, 2008) Three Stars. Set and shot in the Syrian desert and considerably revised, to the point of adding an important new character, Tim Curry as Lord Boynton, who is husband of the lady nobody likes, the first murder victim. Aficionados sometimes object, but this adaptation is notable for its ravishing location shooting, star cast (including Elizabeth McGovern and John Hannah, and for its canny exploitation of the profession and milieu of Christie’s archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan.

The “appointment” of the title is in Samarra, as in the memorable fable (Death Speaks) recorded by Somerset Maugham and later used by John O’Hara (in Appointment in Samarra), Peter Bogdanovich and Boris Karloff (in Targets) and here, by Suchet. I prefer the version in Karloff’s spooky recitation. Adapted by Guy Andrews.

Extras: Documentary David Suchet on the Orient Express (Three Stars); Christie history; Poirot book list; cast filmographies.

One Response to “Wilmington on DVD: Red Riding Trilogy, Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, Errol Flynn Adventures … and more”

  1. pekelmeer says:

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Wilmington

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