SID & NANCY and THE APARTMENT Blu-ray Reviews

     February 28, 2012

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Fox has released two of the most romantic anti-romances of all time on Blu-ray: Sid and Nancy and The Apartment. Both show the negatives of dating, and the headaches that come from love, which sometimes include being arrested for murder. Billy Wilder does career best work (which is saying something) with Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacClaine and Fred MacMurray in The Apartment, while Alex Cox creates some of his most indelible imagery with stars Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb in Sid and Nancy. Both are well worth checking out on Blu-ray and our reviews follow after the jump:

the-apartment-imageC.C. Baxter (Lemmon) is climbing in corporate business. All his supervisors love him, and he’s only been at the job for a year. There’s a catch, though. The reason that he’s a rising commodity is because he allows three of them to use his apartment at night to entertain women that aren’t their wives. His bosses treat him like a doormat, but he knows it will eventually pay off, even if it’s leaving him sick. C.C.’s got a crush on elevator operator Fran Kubelik (MacClaine) and she’s nice to him, but he’s a nice guy and she sees that he’s something of a doormat.

With all the glowing reports on Baxter’s work, Jeff Sheldrake (MacMurray) takes note. He figures out what’s going on and C.C. cops to it, thinking he’s going to be punished. It turns out that Sheldrake wants the apartment for himself. What C.C. doesn’t know is that the girl Sheldrake wants to take there is Fran. Sheldrake’s secretary was once one of his flings, and when musters up the nerve, she tells Fran that she’s only one in a line. Fran takes this poorly and attempts suicide at C.C.’s apartment.

Though The Apartment is arguably a romantic-comedy with a happy ending, there’s little sentimental about the film. Wilder was known for his cynicism, and here – working within the confines of genre – it’s a perfect fit. Some of his later films would be consumed by the grotesque side of his interest in the sexual, and sometimes he would use women as props (witness his work with Marilyn Monroe), but here he’s got a strong female character in MacClaine’s Kubelik, the woman who knows she’s being used a little, but also likes the romance of her situation. And then there’s Lemmon’s Baxter – the sort of guy who’s perfectly stepped on. Sure, he’s got a plan, but he also knows how much he’s compromised to get ahead, and how the world perceives him. He’s the ultimate nice guy, and it’s why he fails.

the-apartment-blu-ray-coverWilder also understood MacMurray, and though he’d been type-cast as nice guys and is probably still viewed under the halo of My Three Sons, here he plays the guy who seems to be the nice guy of his earlier appearances, but is as corrupt as they come. It’s brilliant against-type casting, and bolsters why Fran might fall for his little boy lost routine.

What’s also so great about the film is that it’s funny in its dialogue, but nothing that happens in the movie is actually all that funny. There’s a sight gag or too, but if the dialog wasn’t witty, the whole thing could have been played as a tragedy. That’s Wilder’s gift in a nutshell: he makes a suicide case amusing without being cloying or cutesy. This is a stone cold masterpiece, and a career best for everyone involved.

Fox’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. Purist may be annoyed as, the original mono soundtrack is not included, though the 5.1 track isn’t obnoxious. The film comes with a commentary by Bruce Block, and a making of called “Inside The Apartment” (30 min.) with MacClaine, some of the supporting players, family members and historians. It covers the basics well. “Magic Time: The Art of Jack Lemmon” (13 min.) lets Chris Lemmon, and others speak about the genius of Jack. The supplements conclude with the film’s theatrical trailer.

sid-nancy-image-2With Sid and Nancy, someone was probably going to have to make this movie, so why not Alex Cox? At the time Cox was one of the most punk rock directors going, having helmed Repo Man, and yet the film was also bound to be seen as a gloss. Sid Vicious was a member of The Sex Pistols, hired after they fired their original bass player, and rumored to be utterly talentless as a musician. What he had in spades was charisma – puppy dog looks and the appetite to do anything for attention, including cutting himself. He got hooked on heroin with his girlfriend Nancy Spungen and – under mysterious circumstances – she was knifed to death. He went on trial but died of an overdose before it could be settled.

In Alex Cox’s film, there’s just as much deconstruction of myth as there is mythmaking, but it works for the movie. Though the period of addiction is harrowing, it’s still a strange romance, and oddly touching, and it never feels as dullish as most bio-pics by never going too far back into their lives. Gary Oldman stars as Sid, a young kid who finds himself in the Sex Pistols fold when he meets Nancy, who’s currently working as a hanger on. In some ways she’s taking advantage of him and his fame, but they make an endearing couple – he’s something of an innocent, but there’s a connection. There’s also heroin, which she helps get Sid hooked on.

sid-nancy-blu-ray-coverThe first half of the film is a chart of the rise of the Sex Pistols, with Cox using signifiers so those who know the story of the band can see how he honors history without doting on it, covering the astronomical rise from club kids to England’s most dangerous band, to their tour of America. While in America the band collapses and Sid and Nancy are set adrift trying to get money to feed their demons. Addiction takes over the narrative after some recreations of The Great Rock N Roll Swindle, and other high points in his career and like all addiction films, it can’t end pretty.

Energy is a palpable thing in cinema, and though there were obvious compromises to the story (Nazi paraphernalia is replaced by Communist attire for one), the film works because it’s done by a smart man who’s not wasting time. Though it’s not great historical recreation, and the makers have obviously taken some liberties with the material, the film is moving and powerful nonetheless, even if it’s flawed by the nature of spending at least forty minutes of the film with junkies who are destroying themselves. But Cox is on point here, doing great work with the supporting players (including Courtney Love) by feeding them all interesting backstories that pop on screen on multiple viewings, and by finding the right tone for the piece. Bio-pics are inherently problematic cinematically, and that’s what works against Sid and Nancy the most (having to tell a linear story), but when Cox nails it – as he does in the shot of the two making out in a rainstorm of trash – it’s like no other.

Fox’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (1.85:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The transfer is excellent, and Roger Deakins’s cinematography is well represented. Supplememtns are limited. There’s a featurette called “For the Love of Punk” (16 min.) which tries to put the Sex Pistols, Sid and Nancy and punk rock in context, while “Junk Love” (16 min.) which talks about the addiction aspects of the film and Sid and Nancy. No actual filmmakers from the movie are involved – it’s all music journalists. The film’s theatrical trailer is also included.

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