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Jonathan Pryce

Blu-ray: Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Age of Innocence’

The Age of Innocence (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)

Criterion Collection

The Age of Innocence (1993) is not the only costume drama or historical picture that Martin Scorsese made but it is his only classical literary adaptation from the filmmaker that, all these years later, we still remember for edgy violence and cinematic energy. But even from the director of The Last Temptation of ChristKundun, and Silence, this film stands out for its grace and nuance in its portrait of social intercourse as formal ritual.

Adapted from Edith Wharton’s novel by Jay Cocks and Scorsese and set in 19th century New York City, it stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Newland Archer, a respected lawyer and respectable member of elite society who is engaged to the beautiful young May (Winona Ryder) but falls in love with her cousin, the worldly Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer). The American-born Ellen has spent the best years of her life in the social straightjacket of the European aristocracy and arrives home a stranger under the shadow of scandal, fleeing a bad marriage to a philandering European Count. At first Newland extends his friendship out of duty to May but soon finds Ellen’s honesty and insight refreshing and exciting. As he observes how his own society marks her as outcast he starts to see his own complicity in a social world just as petty and judgmental as the one Ellen has fled. That very complicity puts him at odds with his passions when he’s instructed to talk Ellen out of divorcing her husband and into returning to a loveless marriage to avoid tarnishing the family name. The same contract that he realizes he too will be entering.

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The Salvation: Color of Old Blood

‘The Salvation’

In Dogme director Kristian Levring’s harrowing 2000 film The King Is Alive, a clutch of mismatched folk variously afflicted by modern-day angst are stranded in the great void of an African desert. For distraction, they decide to perform King Lear, Shakespeare’s wrenching tale of despair and madness. For these lost souls, it’s the narrative containment of the play’s spiritually corrosive content that looks like something they might hold on to.

The Salvation, Levring’s strangely numinous Danish take on the American western, displays a similar faith in the power of fiction, to show and contain chaos and horror, ceremonially, artfully. That power in some fashion saves us—like the ritual of consuming a god’s blood and body. The ambiguous salvation promised in the movie’s title may well refer to the good work art can do for us.

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Film Review: ‘Listen Up Philip’

Elizabeth Moss

Anyone who had trouble putting up with Ben Stiller’s abrasive title character in Greenberg might pause before entering the world of one Philip Lewis Friedman. A bearded New York novelist whose second book is about to be published, Philip is self-centered, vindictive, and—worst of all—articulate. He’s played by Jason Schwartzman, an actor unafraid of letting his least appealing qualities hang out. Schwartzman understands how to throw himself into this kind of egotist; we can enjoy the actor’s skill even as we’re being repelled by the character.

In Listen Up Philip, this guy is meant to be a throwback to a certain kind of ’70s antihero (the movie’s got the grainy look of the era), as well as the kind of literary character that might have sprung from the pages of Philip Roth. Having said that, he’s still a jerk.

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Blu-ray: The Definitive ‘Brazil’

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (Criterion), a dark, dense science fiction fantasy, is like “1984” rewritten by Monty Python, an absurdist nightmare of Kafka-esque dimensions.

Jonathan Pryce is the dreamer trapped as a worker bee in the bureaucratic maze as deadly as it is indifferent, until he falls in love with a woman (Kim Greist) he thinks may belong to the terrorist underground. The road to true love involves lunches with his plastic surgery-addicted mother (Katherine Helmond), bureaucratic dueling with an air condition repairman (Bob Hoskins), and cozy relations with the friendly neighborhood interrogator (Michael Palin). Fittingly the film took its own circuitous route to release. Universal stalled the release and even reedited the film, until Gilliam screened the film himself for the Los Angeles film critics, who championed the film and lavished it with end of the year awards.

Universal released the 132 minute theatrical cut of the film, the same one that played theaters in the U.S., on Blu-ray last year in a bare-bones edition. But well over a decade ago, Criterion released Gilliam’s definitive version of the film, culled from materials in numerous different release cuts, in a deluxe three-disc DVD set packed with supplements. That edition now debuts in a newly-mastered, Director Approved Blu-ray set.

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