An embarrassment of riches on the classic film front this week is headlined by a trio of Criterion Blu-Ray releases: the Les Blank box set “Les Blank: Always For Pleasure,” featuring fourteen od the documentarian’s films including “The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins” and “A Life Well Spent;” Sydney Pollack’s “Tootsie,” one of the better studio comedies of the 1980s featuring a trio of great performances from Dustin Hoffman, Teri Garr and Jessica Lange (who won Best Supporting actress); and Michelangelo Antonioni’s enigmatic, revolutionary “L’Avventura.” Cinephile families sitting down for Thanksgiving viewing have plenty of options here, from strong feminist messages to unmatched ennui.
Also new this week in classic releases is Kino’s Blu-Ray “The Conformist,” Bernardo Bertolucci’s expressionistic masterpiece about how conformity begets fascism. One of Howard Hawks’ best films, “Only Angels Have Wings,” also makes its way to Blu-Ray via TCM, giving viewers a better chance to see crisp versions of the film’s stunning aerial set-pieces than ever. And the Metallica therapy doc “Some Kind of Monster” is also on Blu-Ray this week, so anyone forgetting why they wanted to punch Lars Ulrich in the face in the early 2000s can give it a gander and let the memories rush back.
New releases, meanwhile, don’t get much more high profile than Magnolia’s release of “Nymphomaniac’s” Director’s Cut, a 5 1/2 hour behemoth featuring some of the most daring material of Lars von Trier’s career, including an abortion sequence cut from the shortened cut. Those who aren’t quite ready to steel themselves for some Lars von Trier TLC can instead get the first two seasons of “Drunk History” for holiday viewing. Other bets this week are not so good, with the bizarrely generic adaptation of “The Giver,” the dull Pierce Brosnan thriller “The November Man” and Sylvester Stallone and company going back to the well yet again with “The Expendables 3” all competing for attention.
For the last four years, he’s used “The Expendables” franchise as the cinematic equivalent of the Ferrari a rich guy buys to treat a mid-life crisis. As a man pushing 70, Stallone might be expected to at least acknowledge his encroaching mortality. But throughout the previous two “Expendables,” he never did; he fired faster, ran farther, and punched harder than co-stars literally half his age. Finally, in “The Expendables 3,” the inescapable truth begins to bubble to the surface. Read more.
The world according to “The Giver” isn’t above killing off elders and unhealthy newborns by the hundreds, a sinister plot point alluded to, nervously, by Noyce and by screenwriters Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide. Like “Pleasantville,” Noyce’s film establishes its colorlessness literally; much of the footage is conveyed in black and white or sepia tones, with splashes of color strategically placed to establish what lies beyond the present circumstances. Read more.
The screenplay is a hodgepodge of familiar, half-measured spy conventions blended together to produce a picture that’s neither refreshing nor nourishing. It’s got a little bit of master vs. apprentice action, some CIA mole talk, a volatile rogue agent pulled from retirement, an unprotected female with secrets of her own and a badass Russian assassin. The fact that the latter is a woman ends up being one of the most original things in the film. Read more.
Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” is less a disciplined, focused motion picture than an all-you-can-eat buffet where the director overloads his plate, and encourages his audience to do the same. Read more.
Even when it’s piling on the punishments—the lashings, the sex-as-blackmail, some very unsexy water sports—the film feels more playful than the usual Von Trier, though “Volume II” is admittedly more of a chore than “Volume I.” As for the ending, it’s a long way to travel for such an inevitably cynical punctuation—even one that grants its downtrodden protagonist a final assertion of agency. “Nymphomaniac” may at best be a digression, but it’s not one of Von Trier’s weaker ones. Read more.