The Week In Video Part LIX

Wednesday, May 9 2018
The Week In Video Part LIX

Our irregular look at a batch of current and forthcoming releases, complete with thoughts on their commercial potential and where they fit into the market, returns. And, as we make our way down our lengthy “to watch” pile, here’s the latest…

Making all the right noises as we write this is Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (SPHE, out now), which effectively revives the old Robin Williams title thanks to The Rock and co. Dwayne Johnson, here alongside the likes of Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Kevin Hart, helps update the 90s concept of the game that comes to life and has proved to be a huge success at theatrical, outdoing most expectations. And it’s now smashed a whole raft of further records as well as expectations, offering SPHE one of its biggest week ones in recent years. It’s a perfect storm in many respects, as Sony Pictures and its home entertainment arm SPHE are at the top of their game when it comes to distribution, something evinced by the success of the likes of Jumanji and most recently Peter Rabbit, part of a string of family successes that stretches back to the likes of Pixels and The Emoji Movie. SPHE is a consistent performer when it comes to asking retailers who are the best studios to work with, Jumanji’s success illustrates what happens when both work together as partners. One final point worth noting – there are a few smart little additional features on the Blu-ray, and it’s good to see SPHE trying to create its own buzz around the home entertainment bow with one of those, featuring the cast, and in particular Jack Black and Nick Jonas writing their own theme song, creating a promo for it and even gracing it with its own hashtag, #jumanjijumanji.

The public’s insatiable desire for DTV fare starring Nic Cage – one matched only by similarly voracious appetite shown by UK acquisitions staffers and Hollywood production executives – shows no sings of diminishing. Nor does the star’s incredible work ethic either, he’s as busy as ever, although he does tone down the scenery chewing for the latest to arrive on the shelves, Looking Glass (out now from Lionsgate). While he may have ratcheted down the silliness, his presence is as important as ever, while the plot of the film resembles nothing less than a 90s-style straight to VHS erotic thriller. That’s not necessarily a bad thing,  giving the film enough sauce to help it along with potential customers. Cage is its main selling point, as ever, and still has enough of a fanbase to draw sales.

Dogwoof is, like the documentary genre it specialises in, enjoying something of a purple patch. As noted in The Raygun newsletter recently, its home entertainment operation is booming – a record 2017 has turned into a strong start to this year too. And it’s on a winning streak in terms of releases too – first Score – A Film Music Documentary is a joy, a look at, as the title suggests, scores for films, offering both a history lesson, as well as an overview of where they are now and the future too. It expanded, as director Matt Schrader told The Raygun’s Tim Murray in a recent feature on The Ransom Note, from a clutch of names to something like 70, and its scope is huge. From the same company, and one of its biggest recent successes, certainly in first week sales terms, is the excellent Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr story, which charts the unlikely tale of the gorgeous film star who was just as keen working on problems and lived a little known life as a would-be inventor. The extra Hollywood juice lifts it above other docs, and it’s a deserve success. Finally, from Dogwoof, The Ice King, out May 7, which follows the life and career of British Winter Olympics ice dancer John Curry. He almost inadvertently became the world’s first openly gay gold medallist. It a fascinating look at his life, one that came with its fair share of contradictions, but saw him reach the pinnacle of his sport, earn public adoration before eventually ending in tragedy.

Sticking with music documentaries, and The Raygun’s Tim Murray has already written at length about the excellent film charting the all-too brief career of Portuguese trash punks The Parkinsons, Long Way To Nowhere (Bluebell Films, out now). It’s a brash, boozy look at their London-based shenanigans, made up of some cracking live footage (in an era pre-camera phones, hardcore fans had been recording some of the highlights). Independently made and released, it deserves to sit alongside bigger budget contemporaries and should work well not only there, but alongside their on-store releases.

Sticking with music, loosely, and Modern Life Is Rubbish (Universal, May 7) is a modern romance set in London, all indie music and Cool Britannia as a couple split up and – gasp – separate their record collections. We were initially drawn after hearing one scene was filmed in East London record emporium Love Vinyl, run by some pals, in a bid to see if they made the final cut. It’s a film that deserves wider recognition, but, in a tougher market, it’s hard to justify putting a big investment into it. Fingers crossed it will find its audience – a metropolitan, music loving thirtysomething crowd – before it disappears on to an svod service somewhere. It just feels slightly sad that homegrown fare, decent, well-made movies, are not getting the credit due to them.

Out now and already doing solid business off the supermarket shelves is Braven (101 Films), a Jason Momoa starrer that  boasts a decent supporting cast. His appearance in Justice League, coupled with a forthcoming leading role as the titular superhero in Aquaman, is lifting him a level above your average DTV star, which appears to be borne out by initial sales. He’s got the potential to go further, he can do the business on screen and seems to pick decent fare – not least this actioner about a group of drug dealers trying to retrieve their stash in a cold unforgiving wasteland, which is a slow burner and a cut above the competition. 10 Films has distinguished itself by some smart buying in this area in recent months, this continues that tradition.

Suburbicon is a curate’s egg of a film – not in its commercial prospects, mind, more in the way it’s also “an Amazon film”, its release through Prime coinciding with eOne’s release. This, in part, accounts for the repositioning the company has taken out for its physical release. While Amazon Prime still favours the theatrical artwork, eOne has gone for a new darker look. It arguably presents a truer picture of this George Clooney helmed Coen Brothers-esque tale of the darker underbelly of a seemingly perfect suburban life in America. Whereas the original campaign was all screwball comedy, which didn’t necessarily seem a good fit, eOne is playing up its thriller traits. The film under-performed theatrically, albeit not wholly as a result of any misplaced marketing plan, rather that the film inhabits that area that is proving so hard to succeed in these days. It’s started off decently, it will be interesting to see how it works in the long run, as eOne tries to retain a point of difference from svod.

The Ballad Of Lefty Brown (Signature, May 7), is another oddity, a Western that feels slightly anachronistic, its in thrall to the genre, with nods to previous, classic outings from yesteryear, but it won’t disappoint fans of the genre – of which there are enough to support this title.

And to the tune of Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talking, a new Criterion edition of the superlative late 60s sleazy New York epic Midnight Cowboy (Criterion, May 28) saunters into view. And what a peach it is: it has everything you’d expect from a Criterion Collection release. It looks a treat – if anything, being cleaned up so well somehow makes it look even scuzzier than before and, of course, Nilsson – and John Barry’s elegiacal theme, sound delightful. The Criterion additional materials are all present and correct too – there’s not oodles of new extras, but what the imprint has successfully managed to do is successfully pull together a while raft of VAM from disparate sources and previous versions on DVD and Blu-ray. There are commentary selections, not least a fascinating one with director John Schlesinger, recorded shortly before even the DVD era and more than 10 years before his death. Within minutes, he’s revealed a lengthy story about how they came to choose Nilsson’s take on Fred Neil’s anthem tune for the opening credits, that alone is worth the price of admission. While Criterion continues to add to its admirable slate, it has built a marvellous catalogue in the UK, offering promotional opportunities that can boost its standing, this is a real hero title. The combination of a classic film and the Criterion umbrella can further raise the profile of both, as well as pulling some of the Criterion product through with it. It may feel as if the film has been round the block a few times (this writer has owned more than a few, dating back to late 1980s VHS versions), but this breathes new life into the film. And not only does it look better than ever on disc, the sleeve adds more, making this arguably the film’s finest home entertainment iteration. Essential, in oh so many ways.  

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