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New on Disc: 'The Killing' and more …

29 Aug, 2011 By: Mike Clark

The Killing

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray.
Stars Sterling Hayden, Colleen Gray, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr.
Aside from a spoon-feeding narration that’s pretty terrible, the worst thing you can say about racetrack caper The Killing is that The Asphalt Jungle (about a jewel robbery going into comparable “crumble” mode) is even better — though not by any humiliating margin. What’s more, it was probably Time’s rave review for Stanley Kubrick’s pennies-pinched feature that put the then unknown director on the road, leading to his second collaboration with Killing producer James B. Harris on Paths of Glory. This is standout noir black-and-white that even makes house lamps dramatic.
The movie’s quasi-Rashomon structure of relating the robbery’s events from different perspectives was lifted from the source novel (Clean Break by Lionel White), so it was rather suspect of Kubrick not to give the great hardboiled writer Jim Thompson more significant on-screen credit for the screenplay when Thompson’s dialogue (which crackles) is what makes the script tick. Thompson scholar Robert Polito (nice on-camera interview here) notes that Kubrick treated Thompson well in other ways — using him, in fact, on Paths of Glory. And because Kubrick, according to Harris, knew just about every movie and character actor around, he made an enormous contribution to The Killing’s brilliant low-budget casting.
Extras: As on Criterion’s previous release of Paths of Glory, producer Harris (who just turned 83) is interviewed here and again exudes a pleasing mix of modesty and detailed recall, especially in recalling how former Look photographer Kubrick and the great cinematographer Lucien Ballard just didn’t get along (because Kubrick told Ballard what he wanted). This new Criterion release of Kubrick’s third feature (though I suppose debut Fear and Desire barely counts) is such a jewel that buried in the bonus extras is, in its entirety, the director’s 1955 second feature Killer’s Kiss. Rounding out this mouth-watering package is a printed essay by film historian Haden Guest, a printed Marie Windsor interview and some on-camera love by critic Geoffrey O’Brien for Killer’s Kiss.
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Baseball Classics: 1956 World Series Game 3

Available now from www.raresportsfilms.com
Rare Sportsfilms, Sports, $29.95 DVD, NR.
The 1956 World Series was history’s final Yankees-Dodgers matchup while the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. It’s a miracle that we can now even see this game — thanks to a onetime edict that even the Major League Baseball games kinescoped for delayed viewing by armed forces overseas had to be destroyed almost immediately. (The same kind of brain-trust mentality that failed to preserve movies that had been printed on nitrate stock existed in sports as well.) Fewer than 10 baseball telecasts before 1965 (all World Series games) exist in complete or even semi-complete form, and the majority are owned by sniff-them-out archivist and Rare Sportsfilms Inc. founder Doak Ewing. He’s the guy who previously found the Game 5 perfect game pitched by the Yankees’ Don Larsen in this same ’56 Series, which took place on the Monday after this Saturday broadcast. The kinescope quality is about the same on both (i.e. very good).
We’re looking here at the Dodgers in (figurative) Ebbets Field twilight, and we’re also looking at Jackie Robinson in the final week of his career playing on a diamond packed with household names (both teams).
With a notable exception of the 1960 Series Game 7 that was recently discovered in Bing Crosby’s wine cellar, most recent “miracle acquisitions” have been missing some footage; with kinescopes originally mounted on more than one reel, it didn’t take much for one or more of them to get lost during the course of decades. This particular release is missing innings 2 and 3 but nothing else.
The NBC broadcast does include some memorable commercials, such as Yankee first-baseman Bill (Moose) Skowron, who would belt a grand slam in Game 7 of this series, shaving on national television with a Gillette blade with announcing royalty Mel Allen standing next to him at the mirror. There’s also Allen co-announcer Vin Scully demonstrating a nifty new “piggy-back” Papermate pen on live TV.
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In a Better World

Street 8/30/11
Sony Pictures, Drama, Box Office $1 million, $45.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo, ‘R’ for violent and disturbing content, some involving preteens, and for language.
In Danish with English subtitles.
Stars Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Markus Rygaard, William Johnk Nielsen.

2010. Somewhere in that cavernous region between “compelling enough storytelling” and “were Academy voters smoking too much humanistic weed again?” falls the most recent Oscar winner in the foreign-language category. Directed by Denmark’s back-home Susanne Bier, conceivably licking a few Hollywood wounds after 2007’s congenitally drab Things We Lost in the Fire, it does, however, do a better job than one might expect of balancing one thread (medicinal and other horrors in an African refugee camp) with another (playground terrorism and how it sprouts).

Christian (William Johnk Nielsen) is the new 10-year-old kid at a Danish school. And by the time he’s done, its administrators (who either intentionally or not come off as moderate twits here) probably wish he had stayed in London. Angry with partial cause, Christian has accompanied his father back to Denmark (grandma’s digs are impressive) following the brutally elongated cancer death of his mother – suffering for which he somehow holds his father partly responsible. It is here that he meets the contrastingly un-sullen Elias (Markus Rygaard), a target of schoolyard bullies (one in particular) who seem to be everywhere.

The majority of World’s most powerful scenes — and we get a handful of them in different contexts — deal with how (or if one even does or doesn’t) to stand up to thugs who both they and the audience might at least fantasize about seeing buried alive in someone’s spare lime pit. And, to be sure, the key playground assailant definitely gets his, thanks to Christian stepping in and settling some major hash with serious weaponry in the school’s boys’ room. But Elias’s father Anton (played with spot-on world-weariness by Mikael Persbrandt) is right when he points out to his son that this is how wars start — and working as head doctor in the refugee camp, he knows.

The story turns when this perpetually exhausted physician breaks up a minor scuffle involving young children and combusts the ire of a local auto mechanic, who then slaps the doc around in front of the older boys. What Anton sees every day professionally would immerse this dull-wit in his own upchuck, but the doctor — both in the initial incident and a second encounter — literally turns the other cheek. The boys are shamed (though we’re primarily talking instigator Christian), and decide to take this guy out – or at least his van with a homemade bomb.

The script by veteran Bier collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen is fairly schematic, which is one of its limitations: a father who saves lives, sometimes of people who don’t deserve it, is ground down by his son’s falling in with someone who wants to break the knees of anyone who does him wrong. Still, the plentiful African scenes could have proved a major distraction from the story’s main event in a lot of movies — but in this case, doesn’t. Anton’s encounter with a sub-human warlord despot (played by an actor who could have given Forest Whitaker a run for his money playing Idi Amin) synchs up with what’s going on at home — and if this, too, is schematic, it culminates in a powerful scene that plays out the way it should.

There are even more subplots, including one involving the turmoil suffered by Elias’s mother, also a doctor). But they, too, seem to fit into the fabric of a movie that seems to lose its way in the final going — probably because the wrap-up seems too neat and clean by more than half in a cozy way that has historically appealed to Oscar orchestrators. And speaking of orchestration, World has one of those pound-it-home musical scores that provide the soil from which a movie’s detractors are bound to sprout. You remember the “101 Strings” franchise? This is more like 501 and may offer a test of how much you can submerge your own tendencies toward retaliatory violence.

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