I started watching films when I was like 10-hours old, so at this point it’s pretty easy to recognize the difference between quality and mere entertainment. Imagine yourself some kind of Northwest Texas Yeti confined by record snowfall into your lair cuddled up with a few Blu-rays and DVDs.
Lay the Favorite (Anchor Bay, 3/5) and Freaky Deaky (Entertainment One, 2/26) will leave you scratching your head and asking yourself who’s running the farm. These films are so compelling in a movie movie kind of way that it’s hard to believe that someone couldn’t figure out a way to properly market them.
Lay the Favorite did get a one-screen release in Houston, but in Webster, Texas. That’s like saying a film opened in New York City but it really is only playing in Yonkers. Lay the Favorite breezes by, light as a feather with funny characters that propel its gambling and insider trading plots. The main attraction is a magnificent star turn from Rebecca Hall as a ditzy gal who moves to Vegas to find her fortune. After watching Hall you’re pretty well convinced she can carry a film like a star. Stephen Frears directs, co-starring Vince Vaughn, Bruce Willis, Joshua Jackson and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Freaky Deaky, based on an Elmore Leonard novel, has a cool ‘70s vibe, and revolves around a Motor City detective (Billy Burke) who works on the Detroit bomb squad. His investigation into an explosive murder leads him to a group of ex-60s radicals who play with dynamite. Some of the plot lines of FD were used in the Lethal Weapon series. A cast in excellent shape includes Christian Slater, Michael Jai White, Sabina Gadecki and Crispin Glover.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (Anchor Bay, 2/26) gets the awesome Blu-ray transfer it deserves. Extras include John Huston’s (banned) documentary Let There Be Light about WWII soldiers with trauma. There’s also an 8-minute behind the scenes short that has among other clips a shot of the principal and supporting actors, all in an elevator, and someone farts and they slowly one by one lose it (in a good way). Nice to combine some everyday humor within the confines of such a high-falutin movie.
Naked City: 20 Star-Filled Episodes (Image Entertainment, 2/19) offers up 20 eps from the police drama that ran from 1958 through 1963 with the emphasis on people who are now stars who were then bit and supporting players. A young, very young in fact Christopher Walken gets some good lines in even though Eddie Albert as his dad is the main guest star. Perhaps among the plethora of talent (Shatner, Sheen, Fonda, Hoffman, many others) were two episodes that frankly blew me away in this series that starred Paul Burke. In one Robert Redford plays a thrill killer with Nazi sympathies who wants to get caught and go on trial to publicly announce his bizarre philosophies. In another, Gene Hackman is a nervous reporter who’s been assigned to cover an execution (by the chair).
Silent film may be academic to some but as long as there are releases like the 1924 Raoul Walsh helmed The Thief of Bagdad (Cohen Media, 2/19) the enjoyment of pure visual adventure never gets too pedantic. This Blu-ray release looks pristine and makes the various tinted scenes come alive. Douglas Fairbanks was Errol Flynn and Russell Crowe and Harrison Ford all rolled into one as a leading man action star. Extras include commentary by Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance as well as behind-the-scenes photos and a featurette.
— Michael Bergeron