Thursday, August 28, 2014
by Tony Dayoub
The year's best home releases usually fill that gap between the theatrical blockbuster season and that of awards hopefuls. Here are three worth your time.
All That Jazz
1979's All That Jazz represents the apex of musical (black) comedy thanks to the creative force behind it, writer-director-choreographer Bob Fosse. Roy Scheider gets his finest role ever as Joe Gideon, Fosse's alter ego in all but name. Fosse somehow manages to highlight the most charming aspects of this egotistical, driven, drug-addicted womanizer by way of Scheider's tender interactions with the various women in his life. Leland Palmer plays his estranged wife, still his most trusted sounding board. Fosse's one-time girlfriend Ann Reinking plays Gideon's lover. And Erzsebet Foldi (in her only screen appearance) plays Gideon's precocious teenage daughter. All are dancers supporting him as he fucks, pills up, and overworks his way through the editing of a movie about a stand-up comic not unlike Fosse's own 1974 movie Lenny and the new Broadway musical that very much resembles another Fosse-helmed production, Pippin.
All The Jazz's Oscar-winning editing, by Alan Heim, brilliantly uses repetition and rhythm to elicit emotions in the same way a dancer like Fosse would. The best example is Gideon's morning routine: he plays Vivaldi on his cassette player, jumps into the shower, applies some eye drops, all with his ever-present cigarette dangling from his lips before he takes a good long look at himself in the mirror, smiles roguishly and says, "It's showtime." With each subsequent re-do of the same routine, Heim's cutting becomes more disjointed and disorienting, Gideon's weariness more pronounced and his smiles more halfhearted. Before long, he's laid up in a hospital after a heart attack, and that's when All That Jazz really explodes. Like the best of Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective, Pennies from Heaven), surreal musical interludes interrupt Fosse's autobiographical tale, primarily during Gideon's convalescence as he comes in and out of consciousness, peaking with a glorious performance of "Bye Bye Love" (featuring a duet between Scheider and Fosse's Pippin star, Ben Vereen) that's a cacophony of sound and color.
Criterion's new Blu-ray is a stunner (every photo in this post is a screen capture from the Blu-rays reviewed) and includes an exhaustive number of extras, most notably a half-hour interview with Bob Fosse and famed dancer-choreographer Agnes de Mille by quirky interlocutor Tom Snyder on his long defunct late night show, Tomorrow.
¡Átame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!)
The controversial ¡Átame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) finally makes its way to Blu-ray thanks to Criterion. After finally crossing over with Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Pedro Almodóvar's 1990 film ¡Átame! heralded the Spanish director's bankability in the United States despite running into trouble with its sexual frankness and accusations of misogyny. Victoria Abril stars as Marina, a former porn star about to debut in her first mainstream film. She is kidnapped by Ricky, recently released from an institution and played by Antonio Banderas. Ricky fell in love with Marina after a one-night stand years ago and is convinced she'll return his affections if he holds her captive long enough. The scandalous aspect is that Marina does fall for Ricky.
Needless to say, ¡Átame! was subjected to the critical scrutiny one would expect before being released unrated here due to memorably erotic scenes including one in which Marina uses a wind-up scuba toy to stimulate herself in the bathtub. ¡Átame! would put Almodóvar on the international radar and make Banderas a star. But it is much more than that. Imagine a telenovela, the ubiquitous melodramas of Spanish-language TV, bathed in lurid splashes of color (thanks to cinematographer José Luis Alcaine) and a Herrmann-esque suspense score (by Ennio Morricone). You'll still only get a hint of why Almodóvar is often held up as the Spanish Hitchcock.
This year's Locke is an interesting experiment that never quite comes off. Tom Hardy is the film's only onscreen performer, playing construction foreman Ivan Locke. Over the course of a car ride from Birmingham to London, we get to know the mostly decent man through a succession of phone calls as he voluntarily deals with increasingly stressful situations he's allowed to fester in his life. Save for Locke's opening and closing, writer-director Steven Knight stays inside the car for the entire trip, giving us a close-quarters character study of a man under the enormous pressure presented by a huge job, a faltering marriage, and a questionable impetus for leaving those issues behind, motivated largely by the absence of his own father.
While the story itself doesn't entirely justify the tedium that occasionally arises from Knight's exercise, it does present Hardy an opportunity to impress us once again. A dynamic, highly charged actor, Hardy successfully contains his usual repertoire of actor's tics to portray a quiet, unassuming man in the cocoon of his car determined to overcome all emotional obstacles placed in front of him. Locke might not necessarily win you over, but Hardy will.