One of the year’s biggest commercial and essential successes lands on disc this week, a massive-name, massive-budget remake from Disney that manages to use its pricey effects to inform a story of genuine heart and awe. Meanwhile this week’s primary streaming release of note is on the other side of the spectrum, a tiny-scale character comedy about the bizarre meeting of a pop icon and a political pariah. Plus, a Criterion double-header of late-period Orson Welles, and a cult film icon’s very best/worst picture.
ON AMAZON PRIME
Elvis & Nixon: There are few common culture figures far more imitable than Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley, so it’s fun to see what two fine actors like Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon do when tasked with playing them. Spacey leans in on the impersonation – hitting the familiar cadences, the plosives and the stacatto declaratives, and builds his characterization from them. Shannon does not do significantly impression he has the look and the swagger, but he mainly plays Elvis as a character, filtered via the sympathetic weirdo prism he’s fine-tuned over the past few years. That study in contrasts is one of the several pleasures of Liza Johnson’s giddily goofy dramatization, which treats a fundamentally silly bit of political pandering as a quintessentially American moment. It is a lot of fun, but it is no throwaway.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
The Jungle Book: Disney’s ongoing remake parade appears, on its surface, like the most cynical type of branding opportunism – thanks in no modest part to film that kicked that trend off, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. But amongst the recent Pete’s Dragon and final spring’s Jungle Book (out nowadays on disc), it is grow to be clear that filmmakers who approach these photographs as possibilities for heartfelt storytelling rather than easy cash can make them their personal, a situation in which everybody wins. Jungle Book director Jon Favreau ingeniously reworks the 1967 animated Kipling adaptation into the type of live-action adventure yarn the studio churned out regularly in the identical period, with a enormous help from impressively convincing personal computer-generated speaking animals. The voice talents are aces – Bill Murray’s delightful Baloo, Christopher Walken’s gangster orangutan King Louie, and Idris Elba’s purringly evil Shere Khan are the standouts – even though newcomer Neel Sethi, as young Simba, impresses the most (do not underestimate the difficulty of acting against characters that aren’t there). The all-or-nothing at all inconsistency of the music is peculiar (only two of the songs show up), but that’s a minor concern this is an exciting and often moving family members film, and like much of Disney’s output, it is about kids on its surface, and the troubles of parenthood underneath. (Involves audio commentary and featurettes.)
Chimes at Midnight: As he aged (and sized) into the part of Falstaff, Orson Welles must’ve despaired that the character’s appearances in Shakespeare’s plays, although memorable, were comparatively brief. So he, rather subversively, created that second banana role into a focal point, taking a jigsaw-puzzle method to the Bard, lifting out and pushing collectively the Falstaff scenes from several plays to produce this ingenious narrative. And it’s one of his very best performances, rich and funny and melancholy, each the overall performance and the direction wittily navigating the tonal shifts inherent in any Shakespeare adaptation, but especially such an unconventional montage. He gets the gregariousness and comic beats, certainly (watch how wonderfully the intensity of the battle scenes is offset by Falstaff, squat and wide in his armor, a figure out of silent comedy), but the wistful way he mutters “I am old… I am old” in a moment of silent reflection definitely breaks your heart. Lengthy an object of wish for Welles and Shakespeare aficionados alike, Chimes ultimately makes its DVD and Blu-ray debut by means of a gorgeous Criterion restoration it is a single of the year’s must-have discs. (Contains audio commentary, vintage and archival interviews, and trailer.)
The Immortal Story: It is a big week for Welles fans, thanks to the 1st official house media release of not only Chimes but this lesser-recognized 58-minute film he created for French tv in 1968. It’s a lot more of a curio than a lost Welles masterpiece, but there’s far more happening in his curios than in most filmmakers’ masterpieces. Making his very first color project and final completed narrative film, Welles not only writes and directs but stars in and narrates this adaptation of an Isak Dinensen story, exploring some of his recurring themes: the fluidity of storytelling, the pain of alienation, the fear of morality, and the haunting specter of the past. It’s mainly carried out as a series of two-scenes, none less than dynamic considerably like in his Shakespeare pictures, the technique (namely the inventive angles and unexpected edits) can be flashy, but the telling is patient. (Consists of original accompanying Welles profile documentary, audio commentary, interviews, and alternate French-language version.)
Disco Godfather: Vinegar Syndrome, continuing to do God’s function, finishes out their loving restorations of the Rudy Ray Moore oeuvre (following current releases of Dolemite, The Human Tornado, and Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-In-Law) with what may possibly nicely be his magnum opus: the 1979 antidrug action/dance epic Disco Godfather (or, as it was christened on subsequent house video releases, Avenging Godfather and Avenging Disco Godfather). Moore is cop-turned-nightclub-owner Tucker Williams, who goes back into action when his nephew Bucky gets hooked on angel dust, or, as Tucker calls it, “aaaaangel duuuuust.” Charmingly, soon after 4 starring cars, there’s no noticeable improvement whatsoever: Disco Godfather, like its predecessors, is clumsy, silly, and technically dubious, prompting stone faces in comic scenes, and uncontrollable laughter when it gets earnest. But you gotta give Moore’s motion pictures this considerably: they’re not boring. Put your weight on it! (Includes audio commentary, soundtrack, producing-of documentary, and stills gallery.)