It’s a quiet-ish week here on the home viewing beat, where the biggest new release is a Finnish biopic of a gay fetish artist. But it’s great! And so are the catalogue titles of the week: two comedy classics, a killer documentary, and maybe the coolest movie ever made. (Top ten, at the very least.)
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story: “Goddamnit, this is a dark fucking period!” Jake Kasdan’s 2007 comedy flopped hard when it hit theaters, but has since accumulated a considerable cult following, and for good reason – it’s one of the best spoof movies of all time (look, we ranked them and everything). Mercilessly sending up the music-icon biopic tropes of Ray, Walk the Line, and many (many) more, co-writers Kasdan and Judd Apatow magnificently nail the on-the-nose expositional dialogue, clumsy foreshadowing (“Ain’t nothing horrible gonna happen today!”), unwieldy historical interactions (“What do you think, George Harrison of The Beatles?”) and hoary structural devices (“You’re gonna have to give him a moment, son – Dewey Cox has to think about his entire life before he plays”). And as those clichés haven’t exactly vanished in the past decade, well, it still plays like gangbusters.
Weiner: It all comes back, in the opening credits: how excited we were about Anthony Weiner, when those videos of him really letting his Republican colleagues have it started going viral, and he became one of the rising stars of the Democratic party. And then he fell as quick as he rose — until, two years after his resignation, he decided to run for mayor of New York. The question of why someone would put themselves through that is central to Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s masterful documentary (along with and why would you let someone film it all), which tracks a campaign that ended up running remarkably parallel to Weiner’s earlier career: big rise, sex scandal, big fall. They certainly don’t let their subject off the hook, but it’s impossible not to feel his frustration as important policy proposals are ignored for the grandstanding and sleaze-chasing of randos and press. The filmmakers’ all-access pass results in a few scenes that are akin to a non-fiction Veep, but also moments so private, it feels like we absolutely should not be there; by the end, wife Huma tells them, “It’s like living a nightmare,” and she’s smiling, but she’s not joking.
Blazing Saddles: Mel Brooks knew an injustice when he saw one. You see, the sitting-around-the-campfire-eating-beans scene was a standby in every Western — but all they ever did was eat beans. “I mean, you can’t eat so many beans without some noise happening there,” he said at the time, and thus, a classic scene was born. Low-down and vulgar, maybe; funny, undoubtedly. But that sequence was indicative of the anything-for-a-laugh nature of Brooks’s 1974 smash; he’d go anywhere, from double entendre to racial humor (some of it provided by co-writer Richard Pryor) to punching horses to rather literally breaking the fourth wall, busting out of the movie and across the Warner Brothers set in the climax. Brooks knew that when there are no rules and no niceties, humor will follow.
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / HULU
Tom of Finland: Of course, there are still ways to make an effective biopic, and have fun with the form to boot. Take, for example, Dome Karukoski’s new-on-Blu portrait of Touko Laaksonen, aka Tom of Finland, whose explicit drawings of gay characters and scenes became subversive iconography of the burgeoning movement. Tom didn’t take himself too seriously, and neither does the movie – it’s high-spirited and funny, gleefully detailing how the artist thumbed his nose at norms and moved freely from ‘60s European strain to ‘70s California decadence. But it also doesn’t treat him as a joke, and puts due weight on the legal and social fears of both his life and his work. Most importantly, it does what the best biopics do: it dramatizes the formation of a sensibility, a singular way of seeing the world. (Includes deleted scenes, featurettes, interviews, television special, and trailers.) (Also available on Hulu February 12th.)
ON BLU-RAY / FILMSTRUCK
Elevator to the Gallows: If one were seeking out the coolest motion picture ever made, you’d have a hard time checking more boxes than you do here. Newly upgraded to Blu by Criterion, this 1958 French crime film (check) from director Louis Malle (check) features Jeanne Moreau (check), was a major influence on the French New Wave (check check), displays a pronounced film noir influence (chiggety check), and features an original score by Miles Davis (checkmate). The plot is a corker – lovers plotting to kill a rich husband – and the turns are primo, so it’s not a matter of style over substance. But even if it were, good lord, what style. (Includes archival interviews, score recording footage, featurette, Malle’s student film, and trailer.) (Also streaming on FilmStruck.)