Well, with the holidays just around the corner, the producers of fine home video product are really stepping up their game and releasing a slew of interesting titles this month. For some reason the theme in November seems to be failed masterpieces – from Brian De Palma’s attempt at translating a national bestseller, to Otto Preminger trying to wrangle the whole of the sixties into one crazy movie, to Michael Cimino’s historical epic “Heaven’s Gate” (probably the most polarizing of the bunch) – it’s a month in which the artistic process yields ungainly results. Plus, some really great smaller movies that are easy to overlook but very much worth your time.
“Bonfire of the Vanities” (Brian De Palma, 1990)
Why You Should Care: One of the most notorious flops of all time (hey, we’ve got two of those on our list this month!), Brian De Palma’s sprawling, unwieldy adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s worldwide bestseller, is, in hindsight, sort of underrated, although crippled by a devastating series of bad decisions (mostly to do with casting). In the 2006 documentary “Boffo,” a taciturn Morgan Freeman, who was cast as a character described in the novel as an old Jewish man and is still clearly upset by the experience, said: “When an airline crashes, they say that it’s mostly as a result of series of mishaps. Same thing.” While performances like Freeman’s stand out as being completely misjudged (the less said about Bruce Willis, the better), there are other, smaller delights to be had in “Bonfire of the Vanities,” including some of De Palma’s most virtuosic camerawork (ignored because it wound up in a shitty movie) and an agreeably low-key performance by Tom Hanks, during a period in his career where he was slipping some depth into his usual screwball roles (the same year he did the bizarre “Joe Versus the Volcano” and the year before he appeared in “The ‘burbs”). “Bonfire of the Vanities” is best appreciated alongside Julie Salamon’s brilliant nonfiction chronicle “The Devil’s Candy,” which charted the film’s arduous production and remains one of the all-time great making-of books (a later reprint included rebuttals from key principles in the book). If, after reading “The Devil’s Candy,” you don’t appreciate “Bonfire of the Vanities” a little more, at the very least you’ll find yourself begrudgingly admiring that it got made at all.
What’s On It: While the film’s Blu-ray release has presented the opportunity to go back and reevaluate the film, getting comments from various cast and crew members who worked on the project (and hearing from the critical community about its reception then and now), Warner Bros. has chosen to not include a thing on this new disc. You’ll have to go to YouTube to watch the trailer.
Release Date: Out now via Warner Bros.
“Twilight’s Last Gleaming” (Robert Aldrich, 1977)
Why You Should Care: Because you’ve probably never seen it (or heard of it) and it’s really, really good. An outstanding political thriller from Robert Aldrich, the perpetually underrated journeyman director responsible for genuine classics like “Kiss Me Deadly," “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” and “Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” it concerns a bunch of prisoners who have just escaped from a military prison (let by the irascible Burt Lancaster) and taken over a nuclear missile silo (“This is Lawrence Dell, we have taken over Silo 3…” Lancaster intones severely). Re-watching the film, not everything works (at 146 minutes, it’s a bit baggy and Jerry Goldsmith’s militaristic score is sometimes distractingly overactive), but most of it does – Aldrich’s razor-sharp direction (which includes some of the best non-De Palma uses of split screen ever); the rich supporting cast which includes Paul Winfield as a fellow prisoner and a balloon-like Charles Durning as the President of the United States; and the whip-fire script by Ronald Cohen and Edward Huebsch, adapting Walter Wager’s novel “Viper Three” (our favorite Winfield line: “We broke out of death row to end up in a gas chamber?”) While the story centers around a typical extortion plot, there’s a fair amount of post-Vietnam righteous fury, and it’s clear that the movie served as inspiration for everything from the Ed Harris subplot in “The Rock” to “The Simpsons” episode that takes place at an air show, not-so-coincidentally titled “Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming” (“Did someone say box kites?”)
What’s On It: A lone extra that’s worth purchasing the disc just as much as the feature – a gripping 69-minute documentary called “Aldrich Over Munich” that examines the making of the movie, the political climate that gave birth to the film, and the critical reassessment of “Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” featuring interviews with Aldrich’s family members, collaborators, and biographers. Totally amazing.
Release Date: November 13th from Olive Films