CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK
Jailhouse Rock (B+)
U.S.; Richard Thorpe, 1957, Warner Bros.
This smoky show, with Elvis in his youthful prime as jailbird-turned rebel-rocker Vince Everett, has its flaws. But it's still his best fiction movie (along with Flaming Star and King Creole) and a real pop culture landmark: an early unabashed, no-apologies rock movie celebration. It also has one the greatest rock movie musical numbers ever: Elvis burning down the house with the wipeout Lieber-Stoller title number "Jailhouse Rock." ("Warden threw a party in the county jail! Prison band was there and they began to wail!") That number alone makes the movie a classic.
Extras: Commentary by Steve Pond, featurette, trailer.
Elvis: That's the Way It Is (A)
U.S.: Denis Sanders, 1970 & 2001, Warner Bros.
Elvis in his mature prime, as the King of Vegas in a fantastic concert film (in two versions). The soundtrack album is the record that, relatively late, turned me on to Presley. He may be wearing white lounge suits and showing a little flab, but nobody can sing either "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin" or "Bridge Over Troubled Water" like this (nor the lesser known gem "I've Lost You"). Fun too: Elvis clowning around at rehearsal.
Extras: Featurettes, outtakes, trailer.
BOX SET PICK OF THE WEEK
Film Noir Classic Collection, Volume 4 (A)
U.S., various directors, 1946-55, Warner Bros.
Why does film noir never die? Even more than westerns and musicals, noir-the stylish American movie crime thriller and child of the mating of German film expressionism and the hard-boiled American crime and detective story-always seems to stay popular, both in its classic form and in the new variants called neo-noir. (One terrific example of the latter: this year's Oscar-winner by Marty Scorsese, The Departed.)
Shamuses! Gumshoes! Coppers! Gunsels! Gangsters! Femme fatales in slinky gowns! All those shivery, shadowy film noir archetypes, either in their original '40s-'50s incarnations, or in the more contemporary models (Mafiosi! Serial killers! Druggies! Cop spies!): Audiences like 'em and critics love 'em. So do I. There's nothing like a good classic late night '40s-'50s black and white noir like Touch of Evil, The Maltese Falcon or Double Indemnity to really cool you out.
Latest example of the recycling noir trend, and a very, very good one: Warner Bothers' "Film Noir Collection classic Collection, Volume 4," a prime set of new-to-DVD noirs. You'd think they'd be running out of them after the long-running Warners, Fox and Universal series, but no. This set has ten solid noirs, all with featurettes and salty commentaries (from James Ellroy, Richard Schickel, Eddie Mueller and others).
No Bogarts here, but there are a couple from the genre's unofficial vice president, Robert Mitchum, and the directors include Anthony Mann, Andre De Toth and Nick Ray (with the romantic masterpiece They Live By Night). There's also a fantastic cult B-movie you may have missed, Decoy, a wonderfully tawdry flick with the most entertainingly evil femme fatale you can imagine, played by the almost unknown Jean Gillie.
They Live By Night (A)
U.S.; Nicholas Ray, 1948
Ray's great film of Edward Anderson's Depression crime classic "Thieves Like Us," a Bonnie-and-Clyde love-on-the-run tale of unusual poignancy, starring Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell as the outsider/lovers Bowie and Keechie.
Side Street (B+)
U.S.; Anthony Mann, 1949)
Granger again in a paranoid "quicksand" thriller, pitting him against bad guys (James Craig) and cops (Paul Kelly).
Act of Violence (B)
U.S.; Fred Zinnemann, 1949)
Socially conscious noir about postwar trauma, from High Noon director Zinnemann, with Van Heflin, Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh.
The Big Steal (B+)
U.S.; Don Siegel, 1949)
Delightful mix of noir and screwball comedy, with the great romantic duo of Out of the Past, Mitchum and Jane Greer, as wisecracking lovers in a Mexican car chase with William Bendix and Patrick Knowles.
Where Danger Lives (B-)
U.S.; John Farrow, 1950)
Mitchum again, cursed with too much Faith Domergue and too little Claude Rains and Maureen O'Sullivan in this psycho-romance a la Angel Face.
U.S.; Lewis Allen, 1955
Edward G. Robinson is a flamboyant attorney, crossing over to the dark side. Co-written by W. R. Burnett.
Mystery Street (B)
U.S., John Sturges, 1950
Good police procedural thriller with a Boston-Harvard backdrop, starring Ricardo Montalban and Elsa Lanchester.
Crime Wave (B+)
U.S. Andre De Toth, 1954)
De Toth at his toughest; brutal cop Sterling Hayden harasses struggling ex-con Gene Nelson. James Ellroy did the commentary.
U.S.; John Berry, 1949)
Blacklist victim-to-be John Berry whips up some implausible terror, with Richard Basehart torn between mean tramp Audrey Totter and angel Cyd Charisse.
U.S.; Jack Bernhard, 1946)
Along with They Live By Night, this is the one that makes this set a must-have: a ferocious little B, with terrific performances by devil-angel Jean Gillie as a temptress/killer and by Sheldon Leonard as a cynical cop.
Extras: Commentaries, featurettes, vintage shorts, trailers.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
Hot Fuzz (B)
United Kingdom; Edgar Wright, 2007, Universal
The hip Brit clowns of the hilarious zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead (writer-director Edgar Wright and writer-star Simon Pegg) satirize both the over-the-top American buddy-buddy cop thriller and the understated British provincial murder mystery mating Jerry Bruckheimer and Agatha Christie, they have lots of pyrotechnic fun; the supporting cast includes Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighy and Samuel Beckett's favorite actress, Billie Whitelaw.
Extras: Featurettes, outtakes, shorts, Fuzz-O-Meter trivia. (Universal)
U.S.; Zack Snyder, 2007, Warner Bros.
Three hundred "free" Spartans, led by stubborn Leonidas (Gerard Butler) take on a gazillion Persians and slaves, led by preening fashion plate Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). Based on Frank Miller's graphic novel, eye-poppingly visualized. The acting is vapid, but it works somehow.
Extras: Commentary by Snyder, featurettes, outtakes.
U.S.; D. J. Caruso, 2007, Dreamworks
Another surprise hit: a glossy teen knockoff of Rear Window, starring Shia LaBeouf. Slick, but pretty damned silly.
This is Elvis (B-)
U.S.; Andrew Solt & Malcolm Leo, 1981 & 1983, Warner Bros.
An Elvis bio-doc in two versions; occasionally it knocks you out. Note: you get to see the parasitic jerk impresario "Colonel" Tom Parker.
Extras: Featurette, trailers.
Viva Las Vegas (B)
U. S.; George Sidney, Warner Bros.
Elvis and Ann-Margret, who would have sizzled as the star couple of West Side Story (and also could have sung their own songs), kick up flames aplenty in this foolish but likable brew of racing cars and Vegas glitz.
Extras: Commentary by Steve Pond, featurette, trailer.
Avant-Garde: Experimental Cinema Volume 2 (B)
U.S./France/Germany; various directors, 1928-54
Not as good as Kinjo's first Avant-Garde package and it suffers from the vagaries of its source, the Raymond Rohauer collection. Yet it's still a rich compendium of experimental shorts. High spots: four moody films (1952-4) by the great undergrounder Stan Brakhage; Jean Mitry's train poem Pacific 231 (1949) scored to Artur Honegger's music; and Arriere Saison (1950), another lyrical film by Pauline Kael pet Dimitri (Menilmontant) Kirsanoff.
You also get to see lots of black-and-white sex fantasies (a favorite subject of the avant-garde here and in France), as well as a more complete version of Jean-Isidore Isou's legendary, but bad 1951 Cannes sensation Venom and Eternity. It's more venomous than eternal. (Kino)