Pick of the Week:
Manhunter (Shout! Factory)
After Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs became a critically acclaimed financial hit that swept all the major Academy Awards, it seemed like nobody could think of Hannibal Lecter without thinking of Anthony Hopkins’ unsettling performance as the serial killer. Since then, Hopkins has played Lecter twice more — to diminishing acclaim — and the role’s been assumed by Gaspard Ulliel and Mads Mikkelsen in different projects. But even in 1991 there were a few whispers that, sure, Hopkins was great in the role, but that didn’t make him the definitive Lecter. And he certainly wasn’t the first.
That honor belongs to Brian Cox, who plays Lecter (here spelled “Lecktor”) in Manhunter, an adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Lecter-featuring novel Red Dragon released in 1986 and directed by Michael Mann. Though long overshadowed by Demme’s film — it even played on TV under a different title after Lambs‘ success — it’s since emerged as a worthy companion piece to Lambs, and Cox a fine rival to Hopkins.
Marked by Mann’s chilly approach and stylish visuals — it’s very much a product of the same creative period in which he helped shape Miami Vice — the film stars William Petersen as Will Graham, a retired profiler left scarred by his encounter with Lecktor. He’s reluctantly drawn into a new investigation only to find that Lecktor may be in communication with the killer. As in his best films, Mann uses distance to create tension. He never pushes too hard, using glowing neon, understated performances, and ambient music to create an unnerving atmosphere in which something awful often seems on the verge of happening — and then sometimes does. (It also features, in Tom Noonan’s Tooth Fairy, a character nightmarish enough to rival Lecter.)
Long overlooked, it’s seen its reputation grow over time. (Even a remake, 2002’s Red Dragon, starring Hopkins has done little to dent its reputation.) It’s been in and out of print on home video over the years, but this new Shout! Factory edition looks definitive, combining the theatrical edition, the director’s cut, and a host of new features. Anyone who only knows Harris’ world on film and TV thanks to Lambs or Hannibal owes it to themselves to check out where it began.
The Player (Criterion)
Robert Altman spent the ’80s on the outs with Hollywood following a string of unsuccessful films in the late-’70s and his not-so-warmly-received adaptation of Popeye. He made his comeback in 1992 with The Player, a vicious send-up of the town the film industry that, in a bit of dramatic irony that could almost have come from the film itself, positioned him as an in-demand director able to exercise more creative freedom than most filmmakers for the rest of his career. Scripted by Michael Tolkin, working from his novel, it follows the adventures of young exec Griffin Mill (a never-slimier Tim Robbins) as he tries to make it in show business — and avoid getting arrested for murdering a screenwriter. It’s a blacker-than-black comedy packed with cameos from stars who seem happy to engage in a bit of public self-loathing. It remains very funny but it’s taken on an extra layer of sadness over the years as the creativity-stifling conditions it depicts have gotten worse. This new edition gives it a nice restoration polish and mixes some older features — like a commentary track from Altman and Tolkin — with deleted scenes and other features.
The Finest Hours (Disney)
Chris Evans and Casey Affleck star in a tale of nautical rescue that most missed in theaters a few months ago despite some enthusiastic-enough reviews.
Zoolander No. 2 (Paramount)
Critics were less kind, however, to this sequel to the Ben Stiller cult classic from 2001. Will it also develop a cult following after flaming out in theaters? Time will tell.
Zapped! (Olive Films)
A true relic, this ’80s T&A comedy stars Scott Baio and Willie Aames (kids, ask your parents) and follows their nudity rich adventures after Baio develops telekinetic powers.
A Married Woman (Cohen)
Jean-Luc Godard released his first feature, Breathless, in 1960. By the end of 1964, he had released nine films. A Married Woman is his eighth, a product of the mad rush of creativity he’d ride through the end of the decade. It’s also one of the lesser-seen products of that rush, so it’s nice to see it making a return via Blu-ray.
The Sum of Us (Olive Films)
Russell Crowe’s played tough guys in hard-hitting films for so long — an image he sends up nicely in the terrific new The Nice Guys — that it’s easy to forget that one of the films that helped make his name was this sensitive Australian drama in which Crowe plays the gay son who lives with and eventually has to tend to the health of his supportive father (Jack Thompson).