Owls Head — The Hunt (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 90 min.). “The Hunt” apparently became a minor cause célèbre last fall when the president tweeted bad things about it – without, of course, actually seeing the film. The film, written by Nick Cuse (HBO’s “Watchman”) and Damon Lindelof (TV’s “Lost,” also “Watchman”), succeeds far more due to exaggerated bloody violence and a wonderful one-on-one fight sequence than it does for its jabs at conservatives and liberals. The director is Craig Zobel (“Z for Zachariah”).
That said, I enjoyed the film’s dark humor which reminded me more of the recent “Ready or Not,” in which a new bride is hunted by her new family, than, say, Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” made into a 1932 film, or other solitary hunt films.
The film opens awkwardly with a group texting, which does become important later. The action then begins on an airplane, on which some liberal wealthy patrons have subdued and taken much poorer conservative people captive, only one emerges from his drugged state and demands to know what is going on, leading to a very bad “red neck” joke. This is followed by a scene in which 12 of these prisoners, with hands bound and mouths gagged, wake up around a field that has a large box that turns out to be filled with weapons (a la “The Hunger Games,” only the opponents are external). Then the shooting and explosions start.
This is a film of the hardly-knew-you variety as the deaths come quickly. The initial shootout is another of the well-staged scenes. It is a shot of adrenaline. Three escape to a stand-alone gas station convenience store, where they are told they are in Elaine, Arkansas by proprietors Ma (Amy Madigan) and Pop (Reed Birney). One of the three is Crystal (Betty Gilpin, the best thing about the movie), who is not buying it (the cigarettes are the wrong price) and who, we soon learn, has a military background. It is Crystal who decides the best defense is to go on offense.
The hunters are led by Athena (Hilary Swank, who also got physical in “Million Dollar Baby”). She has formed the group, dubbed Manorgate via Internet social media conspiracy theories, because of a bad reaction in her past. The intended satire of liberals vs. conservatives gets somewhat lost in the fun carnage.
Extras are brief: a look at crafting the film, pointing out how wrong first impressions can be (5:04); breakdowns of the cartoony violence of the death scenes (2:36); and a look at the one-on-one combat, which took five days to shoot (2:42). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 1.25 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
A Soldier’s Revenge (Well Go USA, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 139 min.). Writer-director Michael Feifer is very prolific. IMDb credits him as producer on 104 films, as director on 65 and as writer on 37. He already has directed five films this year and directed seven last year. Here, I think he was trying to create an epic Western, at least I think so because there are so many long scenes of horse riding. In truth, I would say the film is almost an hour too long, without enough energy to sustain its extreme length.
Neal Bledsoe (Amazon Prime’s “The Man in the High Castle’) stars as Frank Connor, a Civil War veteran with PTSD. While he is described as a bounty hunter, he often acts as a paid enforcer or assassin. The film tries to give him a real tough-guy image, with the camera often trained in-tight on his face. He even talks in a very low voice. However, not only is he haunted by the death of his friend on the battlefield, but he also has been unsuccessful in relationships, having abandoned the love of his life years ago.
When two children – Grace (Savannah Judy) and Ethan (Luke Judy) – show up at his cabin, it is because they found Frank’s name in letters written to their mother. Their mother (AnnaLynne McCord as Heather) has gone missing and they stole money from their stepfather’s safe to hire Frank to find Heather. By now, anyone who has ever seen a movie has figured out that Frank is Grace and Ethan’s father. However, stretching coincidence beyond the tolerable, their stepdad (Rob Mayers as Major Travis Briggs) happens to be the same guy responsible for Frank’s friend’s death during the war.
Briggs either works for or is part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but Army Capt. McCalister (Jake Busey in a small role) has discovered that, instead of selling guns to the settlers, Briggs has been selling them to the Native Americans and Mexicans, that is, the enemy. By the way, a shockingly old-looking Val Kilmer has an even smaller role as Frank’s father.
The only bit of good action comes midway through, when Frank has to escape from four of Briggs’ men. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 2 stars
The Cameraman (1928, Criterion Collection, Blu-ray or DVD, NR, 69 min.). Considered by most to be Buster Keaton’s last great film, “The Cameraman” also was his first film for MGM, after the independent studio for which he made most of his great silent films, was shut down. Unfortunately, it also was the last film for which Keaton maintained a great level of control. He would go on to make seven other films with director Edward Sedgwick (several Hoot Gibson Westerns), but MGM insisted he stick closely to the scripts, rather than the improvising that led to so many of his great routines.
This film, about a clumsy street cameraman who longs to work for the MGM newsreel department so as to be close to secretary Sally Richards (Marceline Day), whom he has just photographed and fallen in love with, does contain a couple of those wonderful improvised moments, such as when Keaton, whose character is called Buster Luke Shannon, pantomimes pitching and batting by himself in an empty Yankee Stadium. Other classic bits include Buster and another man trying to change into bathing suits in the same small dressing booth and Buster filming from various angles as a Tong war breaks out in Chinatown.
Buster starts with a tintype camera, but trades it in for a very used, bit-broken, hand-cranked Pathe camera. His first experiments with the camera include double exposures that include a ship sailing down a city street. Most of this trying out the camera is among the three minutes lost from the film, although the stunt with the camera perched on a boat launch ramp and following it into the ocean was resurrected for a later film, as were many of Keaton’s routines as he became an often-uncredited comedy script contributor. “The Cameraman” itself had been lost until 1951. Here, it is presented in a new 4K digital restoration, with the score composed and conducted by Timothy Brock and performed by the orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna and I Virtuosi Italiani in 2020.
The film comes with a 2004 audio commentary by Glenn Mitchell, author of “A-Z of Silent Film Comedy.” There is a new documentary, “Time Travelers” (16:13), by Daniel Raim with interviews with film historians John Bengston and Marc Wanamaker that covers the Los Angeles locations used in the film; and a 2004 documentary, “So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM,” by film historian Kevin Brownlow and filmmaker Christopher Bird about how giving up creative control when he signed with MGM ruined Keaton’s later career (38:22). Also included is a 1979 documentary on early cinematography (33::18) and a new interview with James L. Neibaur, author of “The Fall of Buster Keaton,” on Keaton’s later career (14:09).
A special bonus extra is the 1929 Keaton film, “Spite Marriage” (76 min.), in a new 2K restoration and with an audio commentary by Bengtson and Jeffrey Vance. In the film, Buster plays Elmer Gantry, who works in a laundromat, but becomes a stage-door Johnny as he falls for actress Trilly Drew (Dorothy Sebastian, with whom the then-married Keaton was having an affair). When Trilly’s would-be boyfriend goes off with someone else, she proposes to Elmer and they get married right away. Of course, she really wants nothing to do with Elmer physically.
Highlights include Elmer being pressed to be an extra in Trilly’s Civil War stage play and basically destroying the production with his clumsiness, as well as trying to put on a beard with spirit glue, and Elmer trying to get a passed out Trilly onto the bed. The film climaxes with a non-Keaton-type scene, an extended fight on a yacht, which includes Keaton being knocked off the ship at one end and just grabbing the other end in a well-done stunt. The film was remade in 1943 by director Vincente Minnelli as a musical comedy, co-starring Red Skelton and Eleanor Powell. Keaton often wrote gags for Skelton’s films. Grade: Cameraman 5 stars; extras 4 stars, Spite Marriage 3 stars
Sunday in New York (1963, Warner Archive, Blu-ray, NR, 104 min.). There was a time when Jane Fonda made frothy comedies such as this. In only her sixth feature film, she plays 22-year-old Eileen who drops in unexpectedly to spend a week at her airplane pilot brother’s New York apartment. He is Adam Tyler, played by Cliff Robertson (“Three Days of the Condor,” “Spider-Man”). Adam spends much of the weekend playing tag with his girlfriend Mona (Jo Morrow of “13 Ghosts”), as they cannot use his apartment for sex as Eileen is there – as he had just told Eileen that he never has sex with his girlfriends – and he is on-call and keeps getting called back to the airport by his boss (Jim Backus of “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Gilligan’s Island”). Eileen had just rejected a marriage proposal by her rich Albany boyfriend (Robert Culp of “I Spy” as Russ Wilson).
Meanwhile, while trying to find her brother and Mona at the Rockefeller Centre ice skating rink, she meets cute with Mike Mitchell (Rod Taylor of “The Birds,” “The Time Machine”) when the flower she is wearing gets caught on his jacket on the bus. They end up having a nice day together and Eileen decides to lose her virginity to him, only to be interrupted by the arrival of Russ, who then thinks Mike is Adam. Then Adam shows up. Norman Krasna (“Indiscreet,” “White Christmas”) adopted his own stage play.
A special delight for me is that the score and title song were composed by Peter Nero, a favorite pianist from my youth. The wonderful title song is sung by Mel Torme. It earned a Golden Globe nomination. A Nero album is discussed several times in the film and Nero himself performs “Thou Swell” briefly when they visit Club Nero. There are no extras. Grade: film 3 stars
Lost in America (Indican, DVD, NR, 93 min.). This documentary on the youth homelessness problem in this country was written, produced and directed by Rotimi Rainwater (“Sugar”), who ends up appearing in quite a bit of the film too. Rainwater was homeless himself at age 19, after he left military service and his mother died. According to the film, there are between 48,000 and 2.8 million homeless youth – the U.S. government has never done a comprehensive survey – and 5,000 die every year.
The film starts with an overview and then gives examples, including Calub, 17, of Denver, beaten by his father for being transgendered; couple Conner and Makayla, who have a heart-rending story; and Daniel and Snow in Venice Beach, California, among others. Later, the film covers the failure of the foster care system, youth sex trafficking and LGBT youth. It ends with a new study that indicates there may be close to 4 million homeless youth ages 13 to 25.
The film does mention a funding bill for the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont that got a majority vote, but not the 60 votes needed to pass. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3.25 stars