Video Dispatches: RICHARD JEWELL, HOT DOG, VALERIE, GEMS & Snipes

Video Dispatches is a regular column covering recent home video releases.

Richard Jewell (2019, Clint Eastwood) – Warner Bros.

Video Dispatches: RICHARD JEWELL, HOT DOG, VALERIE, GEMS & Snipes
Richard Jewell (2019) – source: Warner Bros.

Richard Jewell , Clint Eastwood’s latest exploration and articulation of “the hero” uses the unlikely title character, whose life was unfairly derailed by law enforcement and the media following the bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. In hindsight, Richard’s heroism is obvious, but Eastwood is interested in the paradoxical conflict between the character’s allegiance to authority and its ambivalence for his life.

Paul Walter Hauser’s lead performance should be a star-maker. He foregrounds Richard’s stubborn ignorance, occasionally eking out touching vulnerability. And Sam Rockwell bounces back from a lull in good performances as his surrogate big brother.

My only misgivings with Eastwood’s film deal with his treatment of the media. There’s the well-tread flaw in the characterization of Olivia Wilde’s journalist, but larger, the film can feel like a cudgel against the media apparatus, and therefore intermittently emotionally dishonest in a way Sully never did.

There’s a couple six-minute bonus features on the disc, and while nothing there is revelatory, they’re both plenty fun for fans of Eastwood and the film, including a passage from Kathy Bates, who turns in a stellar performance as Richard’s mom, talking about Eastwood’s substitute for calling “action,” which he took from the Western days.

Hot Dog… the Movie (1984, Peter Markle) – Synapse

Video Dispatches: RICHARD JEWELL, HOT DOG, VALERIE, GEMS & Snipes
Hot Dog… the Movie (1984) – source: Synapse

Cult label Synapse have recently released Hot Dog… the Movie , a film I hadn’t previously heard of but has a considerable midnight movie reputation, in its uncut glory. The mid-80s bawdy T&A college-crowd comedy follows a couple of strangers who make their way to a Californian ski championship and fall in love along the way, amidst hot tub parties and wet tee contests.

The 4K scan looks ridiculously good, particularly during the ski scenes, which are otherwise quite boring and drag down the rest of the film, which is pretty goofy and sometimes kinda sweet.

Synapse have given this release some special attention adding a new 50-minute documentary on the film’s making. Watching the documentary, you get the feeling its participants were chomping at the bit to relive the film. Director Peter Markle and writer Mike Marvin talk at length about the film’s conception, insisting it’s all born from real situations they encountered, and more than once mention the film was determined not to be politically correct. Mission accomplished.

Uncut Gems (2019, Safdie Brothers) – Lionsgate

Video Dispatches: RICHARD JEWELL, HOT DOG, VALERIE, GEMS & Snipes
Uncut Gems (2019) – source: Lionsgate

It wasn’t until after I saw the Safdie Bros.’ tension-ratcheting New York City thriller about a gambling-addicted jeweler a couple of times that I finally got around to Abel Ferrara’s classic Bad Lieutenant. Seeing Ferrara’s film, which is clearly the urtext for Uncut Gems didn’t depreciate the Safdies’ film, but gave me a better sense of the duo’s particular talents. Their ability to remain lightweight and light footed, bouncing between three or four primary settings that they’ve trapped Adam Sandler’s Howie Ratner inside.

On Lionsgate’s release of the film, they maintain their reputation of adding significant supplements to new releases, and thought the Safdies don’t talk particularly about Ferrara (here, but do elsewhere), they get plenty of space in a 30-minute making-of feature. Seeing that the only feature was a making-of on the release details didn’t give me much hope, originally, but this touches on quite a bit of the film’s on-set process, as well as, to my delight, the Safdies detailing the long gestation process. I had heard rumors of what players they had in mind over the 10-year process, and they do well to delineate that here. This is also a generous supplement because they managed to get talking-head bits from every notable performer, including Sandler.

The Fan (1996, Tony Scott) / The Contractor (2007, Josef Rusnak) – Mill Creek Ent.

Video Dispatches: RICHARD JEWELL, HOT DOG, VALERIE, GEMS & Snipes
The Fan (1996) – source: Mill Creek Ent.

While recently going through vintage Spike Lee joints, like Jungle Fever and Mo’ Better Blues, I was able to see the origins of Wesley Snipes, the actor, who I grew up knowing predominantly as an action star. In those Lee films, he showcases an incredibly emotional range that, as it turns out, critics and fans weren’t happy to see left behind.

But Snipes wanted to be an action star, and he was in films like Passenger 57 , Demolition Man and the Blade series. On a new double-bill release from Mill Creek, they’ve packaged together a vintage Snipes actioner, Tony Scott’s The Fan , with a nearly unknown one a decade later, Josef Rusnak’s The Contractor .

The main takeaway from this release is not insignificant: the U.S. debut of The Fan in hi-def. After revisiting it last year for the first time since it hit video, I realized how underrated it is. Even as Scott remains a celebrated, almost fetishized filmmaker — particularly his work from the 21st century — this one doesn’t get as much attention. Perhaps it’s because of the lack of availability, or maybe it’s shadowed by the flashy, burnt filter style of his later work, to which this looks positively restrained. Either way, The Fan is an impressive film, particularly showcasing Scott’s ability to build the tension of a ticking clock.

Meanwhile, The Contractor is not good, although not without its fun sequences and set pieces, but here it actually proves a fun reference point as it so clearly wants to emulate the style of late Scott films, but lacks the bravado.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970, Jaromil Jeres) – Second Run

Video Dispatches: RICHARD JEWELL, HOT DOG, VALERIE, GEMS & Snipes
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) – source: Second Run

Second Run, one of the finest home video labels on any market, have released Jaromil Jeres’s Czech classic, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, in a beautiful new transfer. The film, a young woman’s bildungsroman, clearly borrows from key texts centering around young women, Alice in Wonderland and Little Red Riding Hood (particularly the former), but the difference here, as is articulated upon in the disc’s extras, is the lack of surrealism. In a fascinating way, Jeres invokes the same internal qualities of surrealism without ever indulging in the style’s visual flairs.

The Peter Hames and Daniel Bird commentary is very instructional and takes on an interview format, but I most loved Michael Brooke’s introduction to the film. The way he expounds on the film as boundless fantasy is lovely. Further, the disc holds three short films by Jeres. Among them, The Hall of Lost Footsteps, which predates Valerie by a decade, is incredible in its own right. It’s a montage film that juxtaposes Holocaust footage with pop culture memories and images to evocative, powerful results that recall the short film works of Alain Resnais.

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