Video Files: Ridley Scott’s first film reissued on Blu-Ray

duel1Ridley Scott hadn’t yet become a “sir,” nor done such heralded films as Alien, Blade Runner or the Oscar winner Gladiator back in 1977 when he made a stirring debut at the Cannes Film Festival with The Duellists. It paired two emerging stars in Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel who portrayed members of Napoleon’s army at odds. Their personalities and lives were such that neither could really abide the other, and it never took much to generate friction between them. Their rivalry began over their differing reactions to a very simple incident, but things escalated from there.

THE DUELLISTSThe Duellists, a cinematic adapation of the Joseph Conrad story titled The Duel, explores the ways in which fairly petty disputes evolve into potentially fatal battles. These two men oppose each other in a series of duels that stretch over three decades. During that time, plenty of other things change in their lives, but their mutual hatred never eases, and it leads to a conclusion that’s not surprising, but is still quite memorable. Though not yet an A-list type, Scott was still able to attract an impressive cast for the film. Albert Finney, Edward Fox and Tom Conti were among the supporting group, but this was definitely a showcase for Carradine and Keitel.

Previously available only in standard definition, The Duellists (Shout! Factory) comes to Blu-Ray Jan. 29. The lengthy set of bonus features includes a new interview with Carradine, plus Scott’s own audio commentary and a featurette: “Dueling Directors: Ridley Scott and Kevin Reynolds.” Scott’s signature visual flash was evident in the costuming and cinematography, while the 100-minute length proved just enough time to heighten the drama and suspense without the story dragging or losing steam. Students of European history and/or the Napoleonic wars will find it especially striking, but others may not be so thrilled.

Act II
Weird, sometimes bizarre scenarios and characters are a David Cronenberg specialty, and he was in his comfort zone with Cosmopolis, (EOne) now available on standard and Blu-ray DVD. Cronenberg inserted several subplots into the film, along with lengthy expositions on social/political issues. But fans of the Twilight films will be more drawn to its lead. Robert Pattinson portrays Eric Packer, a fiscal genius whose job as an asset manager is to make the super-rich even wealthier. He’s done it so well that he’s now a billionaire and part of the very group he’s entrusted to help.

cosmopolisBut Packer’s world suddenly implodes in unexpected fashion. He heads to the barbership where both he and his father have been getting their hair cut for years. He’s decided to place his company’s entire fortune in jeopardy by making a wager against the Chinese Yuan. Bad move. As the day unfolds, Packer finds himself trying to survive in a riot, dodging visitors and bouncing in and out of romantic interludes and erotic dilemmas. There’s also a reason why all this is happening, only he may not figure it out until it’s too late.

Cosmpolis isn’t as sophisticated or urbane as it pretends to be. It’s far more tilted in the pulp fiction/action thriller direction than the provocative, sci-fi cinematic vision suggested by the futuristic look. There’s also little more than flirtation with some of the sub-themes. It’s hard to touch on the impact of technology run amok when you bounce from that subject to whether anarchic revolution is a desirable event without developing either topic.  It’s also a bit longer than necessary (108 minutes), but there are some aspects of it that are fun, particularly the imaginative architecture and overall visual scope. Whether that’s enough to warrant purchasing Cosmopolis is debatable.

Act III
Nicholas Cage had a surprise action hit back in 1997 with Con Air. He reunites with that director (Simon West) on Stolen, now available on DVD. Unfortunately Stolen (Millennium), now available in standard and Blu-ray, isn’t nearly as well acted or entertaining (which is saying something considering Con Air wasn’t exactly Oscar-caliber fare). Cage plays master thief Will Montgomery, back on the outside after spending eight years behind bars. Montgomery now just wants to go straight, but there’s the matter of the $10 million he stole that’s never been recovered. He may want to start over with his daughter, but neither the FBI nor the gang he left behind believes it.

stolenHis former best friend kidnaps the daughter and demands that Montgomery give him the $10 million in exchange. Making matters worse is the fact that his ex-partner is now on the run in New Orleans during Mardi Gras day. He’s keeping the daughter locked in the trunk of a cab, while he never stays in one place long enough to be traced. Montgomery gets just one day to deliver the money, and he’s also got the FBI on his trail, who don’t believe the kidnapping story.

If this sounds pretty familiar, it’s because it’s the template for a host of generic action/suspense thrillers. Stolen doesn’t vary much from the formula, with Montgomery turning to an ex-lover and other partner for help and devising an elaborate scheme to rescue his daughter. Great for a rainy day if you’re not a sports fan, but otherwise rather tepid production.

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About Ron Wynn

Ron Wynn is a music critic, author and editor. His features, reviews and articles have run locally in the Nashville Scene, The City Paper (Nashville) and on ArtNowNashville.com among others. Wynn is currently sports editor for the Tennessee Tribune and a contributor to Jazz Times. He is former editor of the New Memphis Star and former chief jazz and pop music critic for the Bridgeport Post-Telegram and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Wynn has contributed to such publications such as Billboard, The Village Voice, Creem, Rock & Roll Disc, Living Blues, The Boston Phoenix, and Rejoice. He was the editor of the first edition of The All Music Guide to Jazz (1994), and from 1993 to 1994 served as the jazz and rap editor of the All Music Guide. Wynn is the author of The Tina Turner Story. He has contributed liner notes for numerous albums; his liner notes for “The Soul of Country Music” received a 1998 Grammy nomination.