Home Movies: Something Old, Something New

A couple recent big-screen releases and a couple of 1930s classics hit DVD & Blu-ray

A couple of films that played recently in Portland made their DVD & Blu-ray debuts recently, as did a couple of decades-old curiosities worth seeking out.


“Midnight Special”: Director Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter”), making his first studio movie, crafted a 70s-style sci-fi road movie that’s a cross between “Escape to Witch Mountain” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Nichols’ regular star, Michael Shannon, gives a great performance as a father trying to keep his paranormally gifted young son out of the hands of the government and the cult that raised him. Joel Edgerton co-stars as Shannon’s buddy and partner in justified crime, with Kirsten Dunst, Sam Shepard, and Adam Driver along as well. “Midnight Special” is a near-perfect example of the kind of original, popular, smart, entertaining films that Hollywood used to churn out regularly in the 1970s, but rarely manages to do these days. Here’s my review from April, when it opened at Cinema 21.

“Hello, My Name Is Doris”: Speaking of the 1970s, one of the decade’s breakout stars gives her most endearing performance in years here. Sally Field, the onetime irrepressible star of “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun,” plays an eccentrically garbed, socially awkward woman who’s left adrift after her mother, whom she lived with, dies. Doris develops a crush on the much younger new boss at her office job, and director Michael Showalter (once of “The State”) crafts a tender, funny, film that addresses Doris’ peculiarities without a hint of cruelty. I interviewed Sally Field back in March, when the movie opened at the Living Room Theaters.

The central, futuristic set of the 1934 German sci-fi film "Gold."

The central, futuristic set of the 1934 German sci-fi film “Gold.”

“Gold”: When the National Socialists took power in 1933, what was left of Germany’s vibrant film industry accelerated its exodus. But not every filmmaker who remained was reduced to making Leni Riefenstahl-style propaganda for the Third Reich. This 1934 science fiction tale is a rare example of popular entertainment made under Nazi rule that doesn’t share in the regime’s prejudices and hatreds. That’s not to say it doesn’t have any social/political points to make. The plot revolves around the creation of a machine that can transmute lead into gold. A German scientist is lured to the underground lair of a British mastermind intend on dominating the world’s financial markets. Of course, the mastermind has a pretty daughter who’s not as sympathetic to his megalomania. A very interesting curio that would have benefitted from some supplemental material about German moviemaking in the years before World War II.

“La Chienne”: The literal translation of the title of French legend Jean Renoir’s second sound film, made in 1931, leaves no doubt as to his sympathies in this love triangle tale. That would be “The Bitch,” and the title character is a prostitute who seduces an naïve, married man (Michael Simon) in order to milk him for cash. It’s a classic story of betrayal, one that was apparently mirrored off-screen. Simon, one of France’s biggest stars of the 30s, fell in love with Janie Marèse, who plays the evil woman, while she fell for Georges Flamant, who played her boyfriend/pimp. This was all encouraged by Renoir, in order to heighten their performances, but it went awry when Marèse was killed in a car driven by Flamant after shooting was complete. The Criterion Collection release also includes Renoir’s first sound film, 1930’s “On purge bébé,” as well as a 95-minute conversation between Renoir and Simon from 1967.

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