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Stephen Schaefer’s HOLLYWOOD & MINE

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As critics groups announce their annual awards, as the Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominees are revealed, the Oscar race for Best Picture, the one Academy Award that can have real-world effect on box-office, is taking final shape although actual nominations are not known until Jan. 24.  The Oscars themselves, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, are March 12.  Will there be 10 nominees, the maximum allowed?  Will foreign language films be included?  Stay tuned – but here are a few predictions:

SURE THINGS:

This mix of arthouse hits, a decades-later sequel that defied the odds, an autobiographical memoir that also confronts antisemitism, an escapist, comedic fantasy and 2 very serious looks at how to live your life mean that Oscar may this year find the right mix of blockbusters and artistic achievement
Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Fabelmans,’ Martin McDonagh’s ‘The Banshees of Inisherin,’ Oliver Hermanus’ ‘Living,’ Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once,’ Sarah Polley’s ‘Women Talking’ and Joseph Kosinski’s ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

 

Natalie Fabelman (Keeley Karsten), Lisa Fabelman (Sophia Kopera), Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams )and Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) in "The Fabelmans," co-written, produced and directed by Steven Spielberg.(Photo Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment)
Natalie Fabelman (Keeley Karsten), Lisa Fabelman (Sophia Kopera), Mitzi Fabelman (Michelle Williams )and Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) in “The Fabelmans,” co-written, produced and directed by Steven Spielberg.(Photo Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment)

LIKELY TO BE INCLUDED:
How good a movie is, is often decided by its popularity — and its studio’s willingness to spend money on campaigns.  Certainly the Whitney Houston biopic has avoided months of campaigning to favor, like Best Picture Oscar winner ‘Green Book,’ a come late and see if the surprise factor works
Todd Fields’ ‘TAR,’ James Cameron’s ‘Avatar: The Way of Water,’ Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Elvis,’ Kasi Lemmon’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) "Avatar: The Way of Water." (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios.)
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) “Avatar: The Way of Water.” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios.)

 
WILD CARDS:
Two foreign language films could score, alongside 2 Black films that triumphed as both critical and popular hits
Jerzy Skolimowski’s ‘EO,’ S.S. Rajamouli’s ‘RRR,’ Ryan Coogler’s ‘Wakanda Forever’ and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s ‘The Woman King.’

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Viola Davis in "The Woman King." (Sony Pictures via AP)
This image released by Sony Pictures shows Viola Davis in “The Woman King.” (Sony Pictures via AP)

 

NEW DVDS:
A FIRST                                         Despite good reviews, a wide release and major marketing campaign, ‘BROS’ (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Code, Universal, R), billed as Hollywood’s first all-gay major studio release, underperformed at the box-office.  For reasons that are still being debated.  What counts is that ‘BROS’ the rom-com is funny, sweet, real and mighty clever.  Writer-director-star Billy Eichner delivered a classic comedy.  Now on Blu-ray it’s packed with an hour-plus Bonus features that include all-new deleted scenes, gag reel.

 

 TARANTINO’S TASTIEST??                                    With the 1994 sprawling, epic gangster saga ‘Pulp Fiction’ (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital Code, Paramount, R), writer-director Quentin Tarantino achieved brand-name prominence as not just a major hitmaker but a filmmaker with such a distinct sensibility that he remains, nearly 30 years later, unclassifiably unique. ‘Pulp,’ now in a limited edition steelbook, won Cannes’ top prize, the Palme d’Or, the Oscar for Tarantino’s Original Screenplay, energized a John Travolta comeback, made Uma Thurman a star, brought gay S&M into the mainstream. Along with a welcome diversity in its casting.  Bonus features: Spirit Awards and Cannes footage, Siskel & Ebert’s take, cast interviews and Tarantino interviewed by Charlie Rose.  Also, an enhanced Trivia Track.

John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in 'Pulp Fiction.'
John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in ‘Pulp Fiction.’

TWO BY PAUL                 With a Best Actor Oscar alongside 10 acting nominations, Paul Newman was certainly prolific – and wildly uneven.  Like so many top stars there were classics, there were hits and then there were nearly unwatchable misfires.  Writer-director Robert Benton (he directed Dustin Hoffman & Meryl Streep to Oscars with ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ and Sally Field with ‘Places in the Heart’) gave Newman a gift with his 1994 adaptation of Richard Russo’s heartbreaker of a novel, ‘Nobody’s Fool’ (4K Ultra HD +Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, R). Newman and Benton were both Oscar-nominated and ‘Fool’ is now lovingly remastered in HD. Bonus material includes an audio commentary and an interview with Russo.  Benton and Newman reteamed to lesser, if still fine, effect in the 1998 whodunit ‘Twilight’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, R) which is set in the familiar canyons of LA and costars Reese Witherspoon, Gene Hackman, Liev Schreiber and Susan Sarandon. ‘Twilight’ boasts an audio commentary by Alain Silver and James Ursini the dynamic duo who first charted ‘Film Noir’ in their landmark, now classic, book of that title.

Actor Paul Newman stands at the podium to present the Oscar for the best cinematography at 67th annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles Monday, March 27, 1995. Newman is nominated for best actor for his role in "Nobody's Fool." (AP Photo/Michael Caulfield)
Actor Paul Newman stands at the podium to present the Oscar for the best cinematography at 67th annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles Monday, March 27, 1995. Newman is nominated for best actor for his role in “Nobody’s Fool.” (AP Photo/Michael Caulfield)

 

 
VERHOEVEN’S BEST?                                         Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Starship Troopers’ (4K Ultra HD +Blu-ray + Digital, Sony, R) ranks among this popular filmmaker’s greatest achievements.  Now available in a 25th Anniversary Steelcase HD upgrade, ‘Troopers’ is a violent extravaganza, a sci-fi alien attack nightmare that is actually anti-war.  Unlike Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ ‘Troopers’ deploys its youthful idealists with particular grace as they go forth not to glory but such intense horror that it makes death a relief.  One aspect not particularly remarked upon when ‘Troopers’ first arrived was Verhoeven’s use of Nazi symbolism to drive his message about the State commanding the minds and hearts of innocents for the worst possible purposes (see the Ukraine today).  I salute the never-better cast who should never be forgotten: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Jake Busey, Neil Patrick Harris and Michael Ironside.  Special Features: ‘Troopers’ 25th Reunion, director & cast commentary, another commentary with director and screenwriter Ed Neumeier, ‘Death from Above’ documentary, featurette on the spaceships, a Making of, screentests, deleted scenes.

 

TENNESSEE DONE RIGHT       Tennessee Williams’ Broadway hit was magnificently brought to the screen via John Huston’s all-star ‘The Night of the Iguana’ (Blu-ray, WB Archive, Not Rated). This 1964 black-and-white, Mexico-set roundelay of lust, poetry, emotional torment and mental collapse has Richard Burton as a disgraced, defrocked Episcopalian priest, a hopeless alcoholic, leading a tour group in late 1940s Mexico’s seacoast. Here he is tempted by the nubile Sue Lyon (Lolita in Kubrick’s film), finds companionship in Deborah Kerr’s spinster artist and a spiritual cousin in Ava Gardner’s newly widowed hedonistic inn owner.  The location filming in previously sleepy small Puerto Vallarta was an international, indeed global, event thanks to Burton’s soon-to-be-wife Elizabeth Taylor on location, this at the height of the Burton-Taylor celebrity that began with the scandalous making of ‘Cleopatra.’  Puerto Vallarta soon transformed into a major tourist destination. ‘Iguana’ won an Oscar for its costumes but Burton and Gardner’s career-best performances weren’t even nominated. Bonus: 2 new featurettes – ‘Huston’s Gamble’ and ‘On the Trail of the Iguana.’

30th September 1963: Elizabeth Taylor proves an attentive partner to Richard Burton (1925-1984) during location filming of 'Night of the Iguana' in Mexico. Meanwhile Burton shelters from the sun under a folded newspaper. (Photo by William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images)
30th September 1963: Elizabeth Taylor proves an attentive partner to Richard Burton (1925-1984) during location filming of ‘Night of the Iguana’ in Mexico. Meanwhile Burton shelters from the sun under a folded newspaper. (Photo by William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images)

MAIGRET DOUBLE FEATURE                               Georges Simenon can be considered France’s Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes, a master of many, many murderous investigations with his pipe-smoking Inspector Maigret.  Two film adaptations from the mid-1940s’ Nazi Occupation have been restored by Gaumont, the legendary French distributor: ‘Picpus’ and ‘Cecile Is Dead!’ (Blu-ray, Kino Classics, Not Rated), both starring Albert Prejean as Maigret. You have to wonder what the Nazi overlords made of these supposedly escapist French tales that see the French police as seekers of truth and justice.  Mostly filmed on actual locations, giving a glimpse of life during that bleak wartime, the 2 films are lively and fun.  ‘Cecile’ is directed by France’s Maurice Tourneur whose early career directing in Hollywood includes 3 silent films that are in the National Film Registry – ‘The Poor Little Rich Girl’ (1917), ‘The Blue Bird’ (’18) and ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ (’20).  But he left Hollywood for his native France in the ‘30s and continued making films until 1949 when an auto accident cost him his leg and ended his career.  His son Jacques Tourneur stayed in LA and had a successful career (‘I Walked with a Zombie,’ ‘The Cat People’), highlighted by what many believe to be the greatest noir film ever: ‘Out of the Past.’ Both films in French with English subtitles.

 

 

TOWERNG ‘50S SCI-FI                                                A heartfelt film about ‘A Very Big Woman with a Very Bad Attitude,’ ‘Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman’ (Blu-ray, WB Archive, Not Rated) from 1958 is one cult classic that endures, if only for its remarkable poster and premise.  Not exactly feminist fiction, ‘Attack’ is about an heiress who revenges herself on her philandering husband and his latest floozy.  The director, credited as Nathan Hertz, is actually Nathan Juran, the Romanian-born Oscar-winning art director of the 1942 ‘How Green Was My Valley.’  The Bonus here is a new audio commentary with film historian Tom Weaver and cast member Vyette Vickers, the scene-stealing floozy who was Playboy’s 1959 Miss July.

 

 

WHAT HAPPENED?!                                         David O. Russell’s starry period piece ‘Amsterdam’ (4K Ultra HD +Blu-ray + Digital Code, 20th Century Studios, R) prompts the question: What happened here?  A cast led by Christian Bale (his 4th outing with the filmmaking auteur), Margot Robbie and John David Washington flounders in a complicated stew about racism, friendship, spies and war times.  Based on, as they say, actual events, ‘Amsterdam’ must be seen to be believed that this is from the same director of ‘American Hustle,’ ‘The Fighter’ and ‘Silver Linings Playbook.’ Bonus: An exclusive featurette on the Making of.

John David Washington as Harold, Christian Bale as Burt, and Margot Robbie as Valerie in 20th Century Studios' AMSTERDAM. (Photo by Merie Weismiller. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.)
John David Washington as Harold, Christian Bale as Burt, and Margot Robbie as Valerie in 20th Century Studios’ AMSTERDAM. (Photo by Merie Weismiller. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

 

CLASSIC CREATURE FEATURE                                    ‘Creature from Black Lake’ (Blu-ray, Synapse Films, PG) almost works as a faux documentary about the legendary Sasquatch, a hairy humanoid beast ‘lurking in the Louisiana swamps.’ As 2 intrepid college kids decide to explore and head to fearsome Black Lake they all too soon realize there really is something sizable and malevolent there in those dank waters.  This 1976 pulp classic, now given a 4K restoration from the original 35 mm camera negative, is photographed by Dean Cudney (‘Halloween,’ ‘Jurassic Park’). Special Features: Audio commentary and a new featurette ‘Swamp Stories’ with Cundey.

 

 

RAPHAEL D. SILVER DOUBLE BILL                         ‘On the Yard’ and ‘A Walk on the Moon’ (Blu-ray, Cohen, Not Rated) are 2 independent American films packaged as a DVD double bill.  Director Raphael Silver might be better known as the husband-producer of Joan Micklin Silver (‘Between the Lines’).  Silver scored with the grittily realistic 1979 prison drama ‘On the Yard,’ shot in a real Pennsylvania prison and based on Malcolm Braly’s novel and screenplay. Braly was a former inmate at San Quentin and Folsom Prison and ‘Yard,’ written when he went straight and won critical acclaim for his writing, remains his best-known novel.  Silver’s 1987 ‘Walk on the Moon’ starring Kevin Anderson as a Peace Corp volunteer in Colombia is not to be confused with the same titled 1999 ‘Walk on the Moon’ starring Diane Lane, Liev Schreiber and marking Tony Goldwyn’s directing debut.

 

REDGRAVE-ALBEE-McCULLERS                         Merchant Ivory’s 1991 ‘The Ballad of the Sad Cafe’ (Blu-ray, Cohen, PG-13) is a departure from the team’s usual British literary items.  Adapted from Edward Albee’s stage version of Carson McCullers’ novella, ‘Sad Café’ is directed by Simon Callow, best known as the Rev. Beebee in Merchant Ivory’s ‘A Room with a View’ and as the doomed Gareth in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral.’  Vanessa Redgrave is the commanding Southern diva of a small Deep South 1930s town who runs, yes, the ‘sad’ café and, more importantly, the local moonshine still.

 

DEEP SPACE DESTRUCTION                                    Captain Michael Burnham leads the way in ‘Star Trek Discovery: Season Four’ (DVD, 13 episodes, 4 discs, Paramount, Not Rated). Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green of ‘The Walking Dead’) was promoted to captain at last season’s conclusion and she faces a galaxy-wide destructive anomaly.  Special Features: Commentary, gag reel, deleted scenes, featurettes on the season’s voyage, the captain’s log and ‘The Toll It Took.’  Season Five has already been announced.

MAKE IT SO: Sonequa Martin-Green, above, stars as Lt. Michael Burnham, who was raised by Vulcans.
MAKE IT SO: Sonequa Martin-Green, above, stars  as Capt. Michael Burnham, who was raised by Vulcans.

 

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