Blu-ray slight return: Fall edition
Take a trio of badass gangsters like Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel and mix and shake. Add Frank Costello and Vito Genovese and stir.
The Making of the Mob: New York (Anchor Bay, 10/20) follows their notorious career over half a century for eight hour-long episodes in this A&E series. Like many cable docs Making of the Mob mixes its facts and speculation with dramatic recreations. Here the recreations are a mixed bag. It’s great to visualize these mobsters in relation to their size to one another and in period clothes.
It’s a kettle of another color when the recreations act out scenes that we’ve seen done better in the numerous crime films that link our consciousness with the history of America in the 20th century. The Godfather and Goodfellas aside, Making of the Mob also wants to show graphic bullet hits and it appears that the budget for squibs and blood was on a par with the budget for fact checking.
Some of the highlights include recalling the fixing of the 1919 World Series, and how Al Capone was a role model for mob efficiency and bloodshed. (The second season will be Making of the Mob: Chicago.) The Depression and Prohibition give the mob leverage but at the same time an incorruptible prosecutor named Thomas Dewey has the verve to take on the mob, starting with their brash numbers guy Dutch Shultz. Shultz proved that the Italians needed the perception of a Jewish mobster to make them whole. But when Dewey tries to double cross the mob by ordering a hit on Dewey the mob retaliates by having him offed.
Dewey would play a pivotal role in working with Luciano, now in prison, to protect the docks of New York City during WWII. You think having the Army on your side is sufficient try having the Mafia patrol the wharfs.
Post-WWII events include mob expansion into Cuba and the creation of Murder Inc. Some great extras include one segment on Mussolini and his dealings with these criminals before and during the war.
An incredible package, with excellent Blu-ray transfers, celebrates the indie cinema of Larry Fessenden. Four of Fessenden’s films are included, as well as shorts, voluminous extras and a thick booklet that includes lots of information about each film. The Larry Fessenden Collection streeted on October 20 from Scream Factory and IFC Midnight.
Fessenden occupies a niche that was formerly well represented by filmmakers like John Cassevetes and John Sayles in decades previous to the 1990s. A current filmmaker that appears to churn out film after film in a likewise indie manner is Joe Swanberg.
Fessenden works best in the horror genre, although his films are aimed at a cerebral audience as opposed to those who just want cheap slasher thrills. The films include No Telling (1991), Habit (1995), Wendigo (2001), and The Last Winter from 2023.
The latter film unwinds in the desolate snow covered landscape of the Northern Artic National Wildlife Refuge, which is cleverly recreated in Iceland. The visuals in The Last Winter are just brilliant and of course the stark whiteness comes to represent death as well as make the other colors pop. The Last Winter is Fessenden’s best film. Imagine a philosophical twist on John Carpenter’s The Thing and you’re only half way there.
Wendigo stars Patricia Clarke and Jake Weber as parents of a child who seems to the conduit to an ancient Indian curse. Habit fits genre wise into a series of films that include Nadja (1994, d. Michael Almereyda) and The Addiction (1995, d. Abel Ferrara), which use gritty sections of New York, to tell a story of vampirism. There are enough extras to keep the viewer occupied for weeks.
— Michael Bergeron