James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay // Film Critic
THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE
Rated R, 93 minutes
Director: Nannette Burnstein, Brett Morgan
Cast: Robert Evans
Hollywood history is rarely filled with the absolute truth, and the legendary stories always have three sides. As famed producer Robert Evans says, “Your side, my side, and the truth — and no one is lying.”
That quote opens Nannette Bernstein and Bret Morgan’s excellent and (now) infamous documentary about the peon actor turned studio executive Robert Evans. Everything told in this stranger than fiction and supremely entertaining story is about subjective experiences, seeing things through a lens that may not be accurate, but it’s incredibly compelling. It’s a metaphor.
Told through restored footage of clips from Evan’s well-documented life, this mixed media way of storytelling ushered in a new way to tell the story of a controversial figure. We hear Evans in voice over the whole film selling his life story to an audience like a disembodied figure in the great beyond who has all the answers. Evans may not be fully aware of his own persona’s absurdity. However, his leathery voice creaks with an instantly iconic piece of narration that welcomes his audience into his world.
His career highlights include being nearly kicked off a film by Eva Gardner, Ernest Hemmingway, and Eddie Albert, but the director exclaimed, “the kid stays in the picture.” Evans also brought the film LOVE STORY to fruition and saved Paramount, won the best picture for CHINATOWN, and like every hero’s journey, there’s bound to be a downfall. Let’s say there’s some blow involved.
Burnstein and Morgen’s documentary is a multilayered story that genuinely has affection for its subject, and it radiates off the screen into an excellent documentary for film lovers.
RENT/BUY: Buy this disc as soon as you can. It’s loaded with retro features from the original DVD release and has a gorgeous transfer that soaks in all the sepia colors of Los Angeles.
Rated R, 99 minutes
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Peter Gallagher, Alison Elliot, Elizabeth Shue, Paul Dooley, and William Fichtner
This charming Southern tale from Steven Soderbergh started the legendary director’s fragmented experimentation that he later went on to perfect in films like OUT OF SIGHT, THE LIMEY, and his most famous film OCEAN’S 11.
THE UNDERNEATH goes for a steamy tale of addiction to sex and money. Soderbergh most finds himself caught up in trying to exert his artistic expression and telling a compelling story. While there are flourishes from the 90s sleeper, the film has long drolls of lazy plotting.
Soderbergh veteran Peter Gallagher (SEX LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE) stars as a shady charmer named Michael who has gone back to Austin, Texas, to make nice with the people he burned along the way. It’s a bit of a forced reunion as Michael celebrates his mother’s marriage to an armored car driver (Paul Dooley). Seemingly back on his feet and putting his gambling habit behind him, Michael tries to reignite the spark with his ex-wife (Allison Elliot). Still, his motivations become entangled when they are caught shtupping by her new beau (played by a menacing William Fichtner). One thing leads to another, and Michael is robbing an armored car and back to his old ways.
THE UNDERNEATH is a deep, deep-cut Soderbergh film that finds the tone of a twangy Texas blues joint with the sleek flare the director has shown in countless movies. This film is entertaining in bits, but overall is a practice swing for the filmmaker who made several much more successful heist films.
RENT/BUY: THE UNDERNEATH is worth a rent for those looking to become a completist of one of America’s most celebrated “indie” filmmakers. However, mediocre this heist film may be Kino Lorber loads the disc with a fascinating commentary, relevant retro trails, and a beautiful transfer that far exceeds expectations. There are worse ways to spend 99 minutes than staring and Peter Gallagher’s gorgeous eyebrows.
Rated PG-13, 125 minutes
Director: John Avnet
Cast: Elijah Wood, Kevin Costner, Mare Winningham, and Lexi Randall
In 1994, director Jon Avnet (FRIED GREEN TOMATOES) made a coming of age drama called THE WAR. It’s a somewhat baffling movie about an American family’s mental and financial effects when their patriarch returns from the Vietnam War. Instead of the focus being from the perspective of Stephen (Costner) as he returns home to Mississippi, we see the world through the eyes of his son Stu (Elijah Wood). Very few films look back on this era with nostalgia, and probably for a good reason.
THE WAR attempts to reassess the meaning of PTSD and replace any nuanced conversation on the topic. It’s replaced with an overwrought sit on daddy’s lap where he tussles your hair, tells you a story, and tells you everything is going to be okay. The problem here is viewing this from a nostalgic lens doesn’t do the subject matter any favors; sorry, Mr. Avnet, nobody is feeling wistful about the Vietnam War.
In theory, there’s nobody better to take on this role than Kevin Costner. —In a nearly supporting role, he’s asked to do a lot emotionally with very little on the page. He’s asked to be a dad to his two kids (Elijah Wood and standout Lexi Randall), a husband to his wife (Mare Winningham), and snag a good-paying job. On paper, this tallies up to be an enjoyable piece of melodrama about a bygone era. The layers that build up meaningful thematic elements are watered down for a story about building a treehouse.
The film’s message is weak and doesn’t stick the landing to find any authenticity (minus the conversations the film brings up about cultural appropriation and systemic racism). The Southern accents miss the mark entirely, and Costner is sleepwalking through the sparse screen time. While Avnet does mine a few moments of genuinely harrowing action key scenes towards the end and well-timed needle drops, it fails to overcome flurries of poor directing choices.
RENT/BUY: My editor Preston Barta and I talked about this film upon its release from Kino Lorber. We decided everybody should pay attention to RADIO FLYER instead. This release is a hard pass.
JETSONS THE MOVIE
Rated G, 82 minutes.
Director: William Hanna and Joseph Barbera
Cast: Mel Blanc and Tiffany
There’s no other way to say this: JETSONS: THE MOVIE was an ill-conceived film adaptation of the beloved animated sitcom from Hanna Barbera. The film, released in 1990, incorporates jargon from its era to bring this 1960s idea of the future into the modern world. They failed miserably.
The futuristic counterpart to THE FLINTSTONES always played second banana to the stone age modern family. The film, directed by two titans of animation from yester-year William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, proved to be the wrong choice to helm a project looking for a modern edge. It’s a painfully stretched story with a slightly larger animation and a bankrupt tale that bridges the gap between capitalism, sprockets, and muppet-like characters that resemble Ewoks. You know, just the type of subject matter that keeps families coming back for more.
George, Jane, Elroy, and Judy (voice by mall pop icon Tiffany) are going through their typical sitcom routines. George is late to work; Jane is worried about the kids and shopping (come on); Elroy has a space ball game; and Judy is boy crazy. These reductive character arcs are thrown into orbit when George is promoted by Mr. Spaceley (the legend Mel Blanc), and the Jetsons have to move.
From there, the story dovetails off into splinters of plotting that comes to a head when the Jetsons discover a group of furry little creatures who are living inside and can save Spacely’s Sprockets.
There’s a little bit of a spark through music and visuals when it comes to viewing this from a 1990 lens. However, the film is woefully misguided. The directors, who, of course, are legends in their field, had no idea how to update the beloved franchise. This is grade-A bad.
RENT/BUY: We love that Kino Lorber released this film on blu ray, but it’s the ultimate skip.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics can be purchased through their website and any major online retailler.