Blu-ray Reviews: Miami Blues, Henry V, Breathless, Aguirre and More

Shout! Factory has done a fine job putting out Blu-rays of movies that appeal to the arthouse crowd. The six films reviewed here include an all star French double feature, a remake of a French New Wave classic, cinematic weirdness from Florida, the first effort from the director of Thor and one of the greatest adventure films ever made.

Miami Blues (Collector’s Edition) brings back the film that launched Alec Baldwin as a leading man. He had a bit part as the whacked Mafia husband in Jonathan Demme’s Married to the Mob. The connection allowed Demme to offer him the role of Junior in Miami Blues. Writer and director George Armitage had brought Charles Willeford novel to the screen without taming any of the weirdness. Junior is a recently released convict from California who arrives in Miami to start a new life. He’s not quite redeemed since at the airport he immediately steals a suitcase and kills a Hare Krishna in an unusual method. He proceeds to check into a hotel and hook up with a hooker (Fast Times At Ridgemont High‘s Jennifer Jason Leigh). The two think they’re going straight as she becomes his fiance. Fred Ward (The Right Stuff) is a cop with a shady background assigned to track down the Hare Krishna killer. Baldwin gets his hands on Ward’s gun, badge and another interesting item. Junior uses these new tools to go on a crime spree of robbing robbers. This film is as colorful as the pastels buildings of Miami. Ward has just enough charm to make his gruff cop not be a completely bad guy. The real winner is Leigh who brings such compassion to her character of a hooker who dreams of bigger and better things. She’s so compassionate in a bedroom scene with Baldwin. The film has a major impact on the cast since both Baldwin and Leigh sit down for an interview about the movie as the bonus feature. There’s also the trailer. Miami Blues remains a cult gem.

Henry V marked Kenneth Branagh as the next Orson Welles with stirring debut as actor and director. His adaptation of Williams Shakespeare’s play came out in 1989 when England needed a stirring speech to revive its fortunes. The play follows Henry VI Part 1 and Henry VI Part 2 which featured the wayward royal hiding from his responsibility. Now he has become King. He is given the advise that he really needs to invade France and take his land. Henry however learns that there’s more to conquering a land besides looting and plundering. The movie has an amazing cast including Paul Scofield, Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm (Alien), Emma Thompson, Judi Dench, Robbie Coltrane, Brian Blessed, and Christian Bale (some day he’d become Batman). There is something powerful when Branagh shouts, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends!” This is a really great version to watch if you’re looking to understand the play while stuck in English 321. You can follow along in your Riverside Shakespeare although Branagh does edit a bit of the Bard’s words. Strange to think that after such an amazing debut, Branagh would end up making Thor and the live action Cinderella. Emma Thompson has a small role as a royal at the end. The bonus feature is the original trailer.

Breathless was an American remake of the French New Wave classic directed by Jean-Luc Godard and written with François Truffaut. Director Jim McBride teamed up with L. M. Kit Carson on their version of the script. It made sense since the duo were responsible for the American New Wave classic David Holzman’s Diary. Richard Gere is a Las Vegas grifter with a soft spot for the Silver Surfer. He ends up swiping a car and races to Los Angeles to sell it on the black market. However he runs into a cop and gets more than a grand theft auto tag on his police mug shot. He hides out with his cute French girlfriend (Valérie Kaprisky) whose studying at UCLA. The two get full use out of her shower before dipping in the LA underground. He’s trying to raise enough cash to hide out in Mexico from the law. Of course Gere is an obvious target for the law since he can’t stop singing Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Breathless.” Without comparing Breathless to the original, the movie is a massive rush of fun. Gere gets to push his seductive charms into overdrive. He’s more manmeat here than in American Gigolo. Oddly enough, McBride would go on to direct Great Balls of Fire! about Jerry Lee Lewis.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God is a God-like movie. Werner Herzog took Klaus Kinski into the Amazon jungle and they emerged with a film that defines conquering madness. Lope de Aguirre (Kinski) is part of a Spanish conquistador trip to find the treasures of the Incas. They want to pick apart the fabled city of gold. The expedition is rough and tough. People die from the harshness of nature around them. The locals luring in the foliage are also not ready to become servants of a foreign King. It doesn’t help that leading the Spaniards is Aguirre who is slowly losing his grasp of reality. He seeks to tame a land that won’t give a vine. Herzog films the action like a documentary film. There’s a real sense of jeopardy on the screen instead of the usual movie magic varnish that would coat a Hollywood production. This is the perfect film to watch on a muggy summer night. Aguirre established the dangerous tag team nature of Herzog and Kinski that would last four more films. The bonus features include audio commentaries from Herzog in both English and German. There’s also the original theatrical trailer and a still gallery.

Double Feature Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring was the art house sensation of 1986. These two French imports told the story of property in the dreamy countryside of Provence. Jean de Florette is the first film featuring a trio of major French stars. Daniel Auteuil comes back from World War I with a dream to grow carnations on his property. Yves Montand is his uncle who is amazed that the plan works. Tragedy befalls Auteuil. Montand gets involved in trickery involve the water flowing in the area. Gérard Depardieu arrives to take over the property. Except the water trickery gets even more nasty. Montand will not be stopped. Manon of the Spring is the second part of the film. Emmanuelle Béart lives off the land now. Montand is still not happy. He ought to be happy since Beart enjoys bathing outdoors in the spring. The big question of the film is if the water will flow. People in California should relate to this non-flowing water action. The movies were massive hits and kept the Toblerone flowing at the downtown arthouses. Both films are in French with English subtitles. Each film comes on its own Blu-ray disc.

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