This week we begin on an island.
For lack of a better analogy, Mud may be this year’s Winter’s Bone — a relatively small but excellent film, and one destined for further acclaim and awards. Jeff Nichols wrote and directed this flavorful mixture of mystery, coming-of-age story and violent thriller.
Matthew McConaughey plays the title character, a feral outcast hiding on an isolated island in the Mississippi. Two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), stumble onto Mud’s hiding place. In return, he regales them with tall tales, boasting of his many girlfriends (including Juniper, played by Reese Witherspoon) and of all the men looking for him.
While the two youngsters doubt his gab, they discover that Mud has great reason to hide out. Eventually, the boys must decide whether to help their strange new friend or to heed their better judgment.
Nichols weaves a variety of elements to create suspense and an ever-present element of danger. He has also created a roster filled with characters worthy of acquaintance.
The DVD comes in all formats, includes commentary with Nichols, a 12-minute “making of” featurette, and a seven-minute featurette on the characters and the cast. Finally, the release includes a six-minute segment on the film’s shooting in Arkansas, and a brief look at the snakes used in the film.
Seconds -- “Reborn” has a different meaning in this chilling 1966 psychological thriller from director John Frankenheimer. Seconds is now being released in Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection.
After his now classic political thrillers The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May, Frankenheimer took David Ely’s novel to render the story of a middle-aged man, Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), faced with the possibility of leaving his boring middle-class existence and becoming a completely new man, i.e., reborn. Contacted by a secret organization headed by a grandfatherly figure (Will Geer, soon to be TV’s Grandfather Walton), the dissatisfied bank executive undergoes extensive medical procedures to turn him into a younger man, Tony Wilson, played by the ever-stoic Rock Hudson.
Re-situated from Manhattan to Los Angeles, the new man struggles to fit into his new persona, that of a successful artist. But even the attention of a beautiful yet mysterious woman (Salome Jens) fail to satisfy Mr. Wilson. Before long, he yearns for his former life, a possibility not favored by the secret organization.
Frankenheimer teams with legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe for a succession of beautifully rendered scenes, filled with stark and evocatively shaded lighting, perfectly composed individual shot and scenes reminiscent of German Expressionism.
With Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting score, sound and visuals create chilling scenes of Kafkaesque angst and dread.
Not rated, 107 minutes. The new remastered Blu-ray offers: a 19-minute featurette titled “A Second Look,” a 14-minute interview with Alec Baldwin on the film, 13 minutes of analysis with films scholars Barton Palmer and Murray Pomerance, and 10 minutes of archival footage of Frankenheimer appearing on the 1965 TV program Hollywood on the Hudson. Plus: a 16-page companion booklet with an essay by film scholar David Sterritt.
Wise Guys -- By 1986, director Brian DePalma had already fashioned a career with productions of stylish violence (Scarface), Hitchcock remakes (Dressed to Kill), creative horror films (Carrie), and derivative thrillers (Obsession).
But in Wise Guys, for some reason, he tried his hand at mobster comedy. This clunky piece of satire stars Danny DeVito and Joe Piscopo as two neighbors and lifelong friends who languish near the bottom of the local mob hierarchy.
When they cost their boss (Dan Hedaya) a small fortune, the boss secretly instructs each one of them to kill the other. Chaos ensues.
DePalma shows no hand at orchestrating comedy, with actors yelling at each other, mugging, taking pratfalls, and all while dodging bullets or suffering beatings. The blend never blends as it would later in films such as Analyze This.
Rated R, 91 minutes. Available from the Warner Archive Collection as a manufactured-on-demand disc.
The Spitfire Grill -- Lee David Zlotoff’s 1996 film follows a predictable path of redemption but does so with an authentic sense of humanity.
Alison Elliott plays Percy Talbott, who’s finishing up her time in prison for manslaughter. Afterward, prison officials help her find a menial job in Gillead, Maine, at the Spitfire Grill, run by local treasure Hannah Ferguson (Ellen Burstyn).
Before long, Percy has become a town favorite, proving invaluable to Hannah and the grill. But Hannah’s nephew Nahum (Will Patton) feels his inheritance threatened and tries to drive Percy away, even after she befriends Nahum’s wife, Shelby (Marcia Gay Harden).
Zlotoff’s story delivers the expected redemption, but not before some third-act surprises that prove Percy’s mettle and solid character, while also revealing her troubled past.
Rated PG-13, 116 minutes. Available from the Warner Archive Collection.
Zombie Massacre -- In this week’s zombie entry, the writing and directing team of Marco Ristori and Luca Boni go nuclear.
When a government bacteriological program goes awry, a small town fills with zombies. A military squad embarks on a mission to enter the town and set off an atomic bomb inside a nuclear processing plant. What could possibly go wrong?
Not rated, 90 minutes. The DVD contains a 42-minute “making of” featurette and a storyboard prologue to complement the storyboards.
And, finally, from this week’s TV arrivals:
The Twilight Zone: The Complete Fourth Season Note to teenage girls: The Twilight Zone has nothing to do with vampires or lovesick teens. Instead, it was a popular TV series in the 1960s, created and mostly written by Rod Serling, surely one of the most original minds ever to work in television.
This fourth season shows no slack-off from Serling’s previous three. This collection serves up 18 episodes on five episode-only discs (no frills here). The episodes run around 52 minutes — about twice the episode length of those in earlier seasons.
The fourth season continued to draw impressive guest stars, including Robert Duvall, Burt Reynolds, Bill Bixby (the original Incredible Hulk), Dennis Hopper, Ann Jillian, Anne Francis, James Whitmore, James Best, George Grizzard (taking a dual role in the clever “In His Image”), and many others. The season also featured some of the best-known segments from the series: “Death Ship,” “He’s Alive,” “I Dream of Genie,” “The New Exhibit,” “On Thursday We Leave for Home,” and others that remain fresh and chilling.
Not rated, about 15 1/2 hours.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: Oblivion, On the Road, The Place Beyond the Pines, To the Wonder, West of Memphis.