Mondays With Schobie: Films and Books That Demand a Second (and Third, and Fourth) Visit

A look at the music, books, and films you should be experiencing this month.



Box art courtesy of Warner Home Video

There are certain movies that I simply have to watch any time I stumble upon them on TV, and while the roster has changed periodically since I was a younger man (I’d no longer include the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, although I still love them dearly), there are a few that have sat there comfortably for the last few years.

 

  • Interestingly, five of them have been put together in a new Blu-ray set from Warner Home Video, and it’s almost as if they asked me what I’d like to see in a set called “Ultimate Gangster Collection.” There are actually two sets—“Contemporary” features Mean Streets, The Untouchables, Goodfellas, Heat, and The Departed, while “Classic” is comprised of Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, The Petrified Forest, and White Heat. And while I’m referring specifically to the former as my repeat viewing favorites, these are both must-owns (and smartly timed for release just before Father’s Day). The “Contemporary” set is ideal for a viewer like me who owns all of these films on DVD, but is ready to trade up for remastered Blu-ray versions. There are a number of special features for each film, but in each case, the movies themselves are what truly excite. The three Martin Scorsese crime classics — Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and The Departed—are fascinating to view together, coming at three distinct periods in the filmmaker’s career. Meanwhile, The Untouchables is both Brian De Palma’s most commercially successful and purely enjoyable film, and Heat is the quintessential Michael Mann epic. The films of the “Classic” set are, of course, legendary, with two of James Cagney’s finest performances (Public Enemy and White Heat), Edward G. Robinson’s immortal “Rico” (in Little Caesar), and Petrified Forest’s stunning trio of Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, and Leslie Howard. The subject matter might be tough, and the violence brutal, but both sets represent the peak of cop-robber-and-gangster cinema. (Warner Home Video, 2013)

 

  • Now for something completely different: Another of those if-it’s-on-I-gotta-watch-it is National Lampoon’s Vacation, and a new thirtieth anniversary Blu-ray of the Chevy Chase-starrer offers a chance to revisit the film minus the commercials and TV edits. (Until watching this new edition, I’m not sure I’d ever seen the film uncut.) What stands out most about the film today is how grounded in reality it was; even Randy Quaid’s immortal cousin Eddie is pretty darn believable. And it captures the often overwhelming stress of the family road trip in a way I’m not sure any other film has. Vacation looks better than it ever has, and the disc also features a well-made documentary. (Warner Home Video, 2013)

 

  • Several other recently released DVD/Blu-rays that benefit from a second viewing include: Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects (Open Road Films, 2013), featuring award-worthy performances from Rooney Mara and Jude Law; Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color (ERBP, 2013), a mind-F of a film that, literally, I watched twice in one sitting — this one demands it; and two recent Criterion releases, Godard’s Band of Outsiders and Alex Cox’s punk-sci-fi cult hit, Repo Man (Criterion Collection, 2013).

 

I also want to give a quick mention to a few books I’ve read since last I wrote this columns that fit here, sort of. When I finished all three, I had to dive back in to re-read some favorite parts, so there you go.

 

  • The Man from Primrose Lane: I came upon James Renner’s sci-fi-ish stunner when news broke that Bradley Cooper would star in a film adaptation. Considering Cooper’s ascension to the Hollywood A-list, that’s a good indicator a book could make some waves, and if Primose has not yet, it will, and soon. It’s the strange story of an old man (“the Man from Primrose Lane”), a sudden murder, a best-selling author whose wife has committed suicide, and an obsessive quest to discover the truth. It’s a book that, like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, is at times difficult, but always compulsively readable. (Macmillan/Sarah Crichton Books, 2012)

 

  • The Interestings: Meg Wolitzer is the author of nine novels, and her latest, The Interestings, is her most acclaimed yet. It’s a sprawling tale of five creative teenagers and their tangled adult lives, and I found it a story that seems ready-made for an HBO series. It’s sad, funny, and, for anyone who ever thought their destiny might lie in the art world, unmissable. (Penguin Publishing/Riverhead, 2013)

 

  • The Friedkin Connection—A Memoir: William Friedkin is one of those filmmakers whose highs could not be higher (Oscar wins for The French Connection, box-office glory for The Exorcist) and lows could not be lower (the flop of Sorcerer, the controversial Cruising, and, well, pretty much every movie he made between To Live and Die in L.A. and last year’s Killer Joe). His memoir is an honest, remarkably candid look at almost every one of his movies, and at his own failings as a person and filmmaker. It is especially insightful to hear him discuss Cruising, the gay serial killer film that ranks among the most fascinating, wildly flawed studio pictures of the last thirty years. (Harper, 2013)

 

All of these films and books have something common: I could sit down with them now and be just as contented as I was the first time I watched or read them.

 

Christopher Schobert is a regular contributor to Buffalo Spree and the Buffalo News, and also writes about film on his own website, filmswoon.com.

 

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