It’s another short week on this week in home video, but there’s still an interesting batch of films on Blu-ray and DVD, like a Blake Lively vehicle, a Brian De Palma classic, and a Wes Craven deep cut. Leading things off, there’s “Age of Adaline,” the story of Adaline Bowman, a woman who after a preposterous accident in 1908 has remained ageless at 29 years old. After increased scrutiny by the federals in the mid-20th century, she goes into hiding and spends the rest of her life running from not only the authorities, but her daughter and a series of lovers as well. But when she meets the wealthy and charming Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), she starts to wonder if running from herself is really the answer. Though “Age of Adaline” is earnest and straight-faced, and features a great Harrison Ford performance as Ellis’ father who, in his youth, fell for Adaline (which is kinda weird, to say the least), it’s surface-level romance and one-note storytelling limit its effectiveness as a melodrama.
Rounding out new releases are the indie action film “American Heist,” starring Hayden Christensen and Adrien Brody, and based on the 1959 Steve McQueen heist film “The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery.” After Frankie (Brody) takes the rap for a crime both he and his brother James (Christensen) did together, James gets his life together with a straight job and a sweet girlfriend (Jordana Brewster). But when Frankie gets out of the joint, he wants to return to what he knows best: crime. Finally, there’s the redundant Kevin Pollack documentary ostensibly about the intersection between comedy and misery, laughter and depression, but really it’s an excuse for Pollack to gather a bunch of seasoned comedy faces to talk about process, which is cool, but also irrelevant considering the surfeit of comedy podcasts that do the same thing but better.
On the classic front, we have Brian De Palma’s “Dressed to Kill” on Criterion, the erotic thriller about the murder of a housewife (Angie Dickinson), and the investigation by her psychiatrist (Michael Caine), her son (Keith Gordon), and a call girl witness (Nancy Allen). (Note: Advance copies sent to reviewers contained a mastering flaw, but all discs should be the corrected version.) Next, Shout! Factory has Wes Craven’s “Shocker,” the 1989 horror film about a crazed serial killer who’s put to death but doesn’t die instead becoming “pure electricity.” Then, Twilight Time has a host of really interesting Blu-ray releases, mainly Neil Jordan’s debut film “Angel,” about a saxophonist (Stephen Rea) whose life falls apart after witnessing a murder, Robert Aldrich’s Depression-era “Emperor of the North,” about a hobo (Lee Marvin) determined to ride a train while its conductor (Ernest Borgnine) is determined to prevent him at every step of the way, and “Fat City,” a severely underrated John Huston picture about the relationship between an old-time boxer (Stacy Keach) and a up-and-comer (Jeff Bridges). (There’s also the Charles Bronson vehicle “10 to Midnight” and “At Close Range” starring Christopher Walken and Sean Penn). Finally, Kino Lorber has two films: first, “The Last Empresario,” a portrait of Michael White, the famous London theatrical impresario and film producer responsible for introducing Yoko Ono to the world and producing such cult classics like “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and second, “The Epic of Everest,” the BFI National Archive’s restoration of Captain John Noel’s 1924 film which captures the Mallory-Irvine Everest expedition, eventually culminating in their deaths.
Matt Prigge, Metro
Born in 1908, Adaline’s been cursed with looking like Blake Lively for some eight decades, during which she’s periodically uprooted her life, swapping identities, slightly changing her hairstyle and, worst of all, chucking a stream of lovers. She fears that if her secret is discovered she’ll be carted off for scientific research. But it’s clear that’s a flimsy excuse to not let people in, and the film exists in part to remind us that loners are bad, no person is an island, mate or die, etc. “The Age of Adeline” clings to this angle — you might say it was committed to it — and you can accuse it of being unimaginative, of not fully exploiting its premise. Certainly Adeline herself has the same problem. Gifted with a form of immortality (though she presumably could die just like anyone), she’s wound up mostly sticking in San Francisco instead of scouring the world for adventures. (At least cinephiles will be delighted that Adaline, a history buff, has taken a job in an archive, which somehow has the excess cash to digitize its local film reels. It’s hard to resist a mainstream movie that beams to some 3,000 theaters a bit from the remarkable 1906 San Fran film “A Trip Down Market Street.”) It is, then, one-note, though it’s a pretty good note, and after some initial stutter-stepping — including a newsreel-y opening in which the stentorian narrator deploys some truly impressive gobbledygook, all to give it a shiny pseudo-scientific glaze — “Adaline” hits its groove as a dreamy reverie in a minor key. The main focus is Adaline’s love life, namely her habit of picking up and chucking men. Her latest prey is Ellis (Michael Huisman, yet another “Game of Throne”-r thrown into big movies), a dashing young entrepreneur who likes jazz, if also smooth jazz. (Nobody’s perfect.) She tries to resist him, but she can’t, and for her failure she’s rewarded by meeting his dad, William (Harrison Ford), who turns out to be (record scratch) no less than one of her old flames, now 40 years older, happily married yet still haunted by this girl who one day long ago vanished. Read more.
Criticwire Average: C
Nik Grozdanovic, The Playlist
Video games, Michael Mann films, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and rap videos are a few of the most noticeable influences in Andresayan’s film. Leaving aside the fact that that all of those influences are infinitely superior to “American Heist” for a moment, let’s just go over the specifics of this cliché-riddled film. Sarik Andreasyan is a 30-year-old Armenian director making his English language debut, with a screenplay written by Raul Inglis, whose last writing gig was for an Uwe Boll film. When one reads that sentence again, all the pieces start to fit. As a crime film, “Heist” is a complete mess, with one-note characters, an idiotically planned out bank job, and the climactic heist edited and directed with the finesse of a blind butcher. A perfect example is the technique of mounting the camera on a given actor and pointing the lens at his face, which is meant to put the viewer “in the moment,” vicariously experiencing the character’s distress. Andreasyan is so in love with this technique that he renders it into an over-saturated, blunt, almost deliberately asinine gimmick. Read more.
“Misery Loves Comedy”
Criticwire Average: B-
Nathan Rabin, The Dissolve
It might seem churlish to bemoan people’s happiness, but for a documentary with misery in the title and misery as its subject, this seems like an awful chipper bunch, quick with a smile and a self-deprecating wisecrack. More than anything, “Misery Loves Comedy” does not need to exist. The niche it aims to fill has already been occupied by people willing to go much deeper than Pollak. Perhaps because he’s been such a successful comedian for so long (he currently reigns as our preeminent Christopher Walken impersonator), Pollak seems more interested in the comedy part of the title than the misery component, and that’s where the really interesting stories lie. It’s hard not to compare “Misery Loves Comedy” with “WTF,” both because Maron is a prominent presence here and because the film would double as a dynamite name for Maron’s podcast. If “WTF” at its best is a satisfying dive into the complex psyches of those who make other people happy for a living, yet are often beset by sadness themselves, then “Misery Loves Comedy” is more like an amusing little dip in the kiddie pool on a Sunday afternoon. It’s fun, for the most part, but you don’t get a lot out of it. Read more.