It’s another slow week for this week in home video, but leading off the list is a Criterion DVD/Blu-Ray release of Terry Gilliam’s film “The Fisher King.” Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges), an aggressive shock jock tries to commit suicide after unintentionally prompting an unstable caller to commit mass murder, but is saved by Parry (Robin Williams), a delusional homeless man who believes it’s his mission to find the Holy Grail. After learning that Parry’s condition is because of witnessing his wife’s murder at the hands of Jack’s caller, Jack agrees to help Parry on his mission. A sensitive movie with a dark core, “The Fisher King” explores the effects of trauma on those living with grief while also allowing for sweet moments around the edges, like Michael Jeter’s performance as a homeless drag queen or a beautiful meet cute at Grand Central Terminal that turns a bustling train station into a choreographed waltz. It’s a Gilliam film through and through as his vision of New York, combining the modern claustrophobia of the city with an expansive medieval aesthetic, shines through and somehow creates both an inviting and foreboding presence in the film. And though Bridges is reliably fantastic as Jack, and Mercedes Ruehl gives an underrated performance as Anne, Jack’s girlfriend, the star of the show is Robin Williams as Parry, a role that has only gained more resonance since his untimely death last year. Gilliam brought out the dark underbelly beneath Williams’ hyperactive schtick and he subsequently gave arguably the best single performance of his career, and it’s because he simultaneously embraced the comedic and serious that he could, as Keith Phipps describes, shrug off the genius label that had followed him for the previous decade. It’s a touching film that will stay with you long after it’s over.
There are a few other releases this week, including one more Criterion film, Bernhard Wicki’s “The Bridge,” a West German anti-war film about a group of boys enlisted to be soldiers and forced to defend their small town in a terrifying battle. Cohen Media Group has Abderrahmane Sissako’s Oscar-nominated “Timbuktu,” which looks at the occupation of Timbuktu, Mali by Islamist extremists. Next, Zeitgeist has Talya Lavie’s “Zero Motivation,” a dark comedy about a unit of young female Israeli soldiers. Breaking Glass has two films: director Larry Clark’s “Marfa Girl” about a group of youths living in the working class town of Marfa on the Mexico-U.S. border, and “Stop the Pounding Heart,” Roberto Minervini’s last film in his Texas trilogy, about a family of goat farmers in a rural community. Finally, Flicker Alley has “3-D Rarities,” a release that contains 22 ultra-rare and restored 3-D films from as far back as 1922, courtesy of the 3-D Film Archive.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network and the web:
“The Fisher King”
Noel Murray, The Dissolve
Gilliam pulled this off with two unlikely leads. Little in Hollywood golden boy Jeff Bridges’ earlier work suggested he was a good fit for the role of callous DJ Jack Lucas. (According to Bridges, he tried to convince Gilliam to hire somebody else when they first met.) But the actor figured out how to shade his usual cool, laid-back screen persona into something more like self-centered disengagement. For the part of Parry, Jack’s homeless savior, the studio wanted Robin Williams, who’d worked with Gilliam before on “The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen.” Up to that point in his career, Williams tended to fluctuate between flat-out zany and super-serious — sometimes even in the same movie, as in “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Dead Poets Society.” Gilliam found the seriousness within the zaniness, letting Williams cut loose without forgetting that his Parry was supposed to be deeply damaged. Read more.
Bosley Crowther, The New York Times
The details of disaster are nerve-shattering, from the sound of approaching American tanks to the final mowing down of the defenders and the last insane murder of the Nazi who finally comes to blow up the bridge. Herr Wicki has let us have it, right between the eyes. There is irony, some pity and lots of realism in this film. If anyone still needs to be told so, it carries the message: War is hell. Read more.
Criticwire Average: A-
Matt Prigge, Metro
“Timbuktu” is a serious (which is to say reasonably comedic) examination of life under Islamic extremist rule that arrives in a climate thick with fear. As such, it’s perhaps not the ideal time for release. It’s not the kind of film a zealot holds up to beat any side of the debate; it offers no easy answers, and could even be susceptible to misinterpretation, particularly by those who haven’t seen it. It’s a patient art film that humanizes its extremists, but in a way that only makes them scarier. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B+
Vadim Rizov, The A.V. Club
A three-part portrait of female friendship, falling-out, and reconciliation on an Israeli military base, Talya Lavie’s “Zero Motivation” makes no mention of the Palestinian occupation. That makes sense, since the film focuses on young women performing two years of mandatory military duty on the administrative sidelines. Patriotic zeal has nothing to do with why they’re there. Read more.