Jean-Pierre Melville offers a different kind of occupation drama
Jean-Pierre Melville's reputation rests predominantly on his amazing string of crime dramas but the director (who during World War II was active in the Resistance) also made three films about the life during the Nazi occupation. "Léon Morin, Priest" (Criterion), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo as an unconventional, at times radical young priest and Emmanuelle Riva as an atheist attracted to his intelligence and his charms, is his second and most unusual.
Melville adapts the semi-autobiographical novel by Béatrix Beck (which he once praised as the most accurate picture of life under the occupation) and the defies the expectations of an occupation drama by leaving most of the defining details—the of German soldiers on the streets, the black market, the activities of Resistance and the deportations of Jewish citizens—in the margins of the frame or completely off screen. Instead he focuses on the hothouse atmosphere of intimacy and separation, of desire and denial, in the private meetings of Léon (Belmondo), the unconventional, at times radical and undeniably handsome young priest, and Barny (Riva), a young widow with a half-Jewish daughter and a strong attraction to Léon.
It's quite the chamber drama, a war movie set in intimate spaces and played out in theological debates and guarded discussions. Melville plays on the power of Belmondo, a handsome, young, newly-minted movie star of French cinema in 1961, as a strong, striking, confident priest in a town of women without men. Behind the guarded figure in a black cassock and a serene, sly smile is a virile yet celibate man surrounded by desirable women and he wields that power to draw them into the faith and, chastely, flirt with them. The smoldering space between New Wave icons Belmondo and Riva isn't exactly the battlefield here, but it is the most volatile drama in this story of life under nazi occupation.
The film debuts on American DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion in new high-definition digital restoration and a clean, crisp transfer the beautifully presents Henri Decaë's black-and-white photography.
The disc presents scene-specific commentary by film professor and Melville expert Ginette Vincendeau, who talks over three extended sequences from film in what is more audio essay than commentary, offering an overview of the film in the context of Melville's career and discussing the major themes and stylistic qualities of the film as a whole. Also include two brief deleted scenes and an archival TV interview with Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean-Paul Belmondo from 1961.
Plus more British TV, old and new
"Supernatural: The Anime Series" (Warner) is something unique: the CW Network's live-action show reimagined as an anime series for Japanese fans in a collaboration between Warner Bros. and Madhouse Animation Studio. Videodrone's review is here.
Cable TV's favorite sidekick gets his own movie in "Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe" (Fox), a feature-length prequel with Bruce Campbell playing Sam Axe on his final mission as a Navy SEALS Commander, a punitive assignment in Colombia that becomes a moral mission to save civilians from a corrupt military dictatorship. It never transcends the scope of a made-for-cable feature. Rather, it rests on the personality of Bruce Campbell and his fun-loving, wise-cracking, unfailingly loyal Sam Axe, and if that's something you dig, this is made for you. Jeffrey Donovan directs and makes an appearance as a pre-burned Michael Weston.
Arrives on DVD and Blu-ray with commentary by Bruce Campbell (who is always a hoot in the commentary booth), writer/producer Matt Nix and director Jeffrey Donovan, "The Fall of Jeffrey Donovan," a making-of spoof that portrays director Donovan as the show's answer "Apocalypse Now"'s Colonel Kurtz, and the "Burn Notice" panel at Comic Con 2010, where Bruce Campbell pretty much upstages everybody.
"Omnibus" is a legacy of television programming from a time when networks felt they had an obligation to offer cultural and educational programming in addition to chasing ratings through entertainment, a weekly live program of arts and non-fiction presentations in prime time. "Omnibus: American Profiles" (eOne) is a two-disc set collecting 14 documentary presentations from the legendary series, originally broadcast between 1952 and 1960, including profiles of William Faulkner, Frank Lloyd Wright, Pearl S. Buck, E.B. White, James Thurber, Sugar Ray Robinson, Grand Central Station and The New York Times. Also features a 16-page booklet with essays on the individual programs, which vary in length from 12 to 52 minutes.
"The Street: Season Two" (BFS) offers six more stories in Jimmy McGovern's anthology-like series of intersecting lives, this time on a street in Manchester. David Thewlis, Timothy Spall, Matt Smith, Gina McKee, Vincent Regan and Jodhi May star in this season of the BAFTA and International Emmy Award-winning show, which ran in 2007 on the BBC. Two-discs in an unnecessarily supersized case.
Also from Britain comes "Wish Me Luck: Series Three" (Acorn), with Shirley Henderson joining Jane Asher in the World War II espionage drama from 1990, and a new version of "Just William" (BFS), a family comedy based on the books by Richmal Crompton. And "The Bretts: The Complete Collection" (Acorn) is a rerelease of the 1987 drama set backstage in the London theater world of the 1920s West End.
"Dennis the Menace: Season Two" (Shout! Factory) features 38 episodes from the 1960-61 season of the sitcom starring Jay North as the tow-haired hurricane of a schoolkid caught somewhere between well-meaning disaster and scheming wild child. "Jersey Shore Uncensored: Season Three" (Paramount) brings the crew back to Seaside, NJ, for 13 more episodes of TV that it very, very bad for you, plus supplements.
And the rest:
Robert E. Howard's barbarian hero gets reworked for kids in "Conan the Adventurer: Season One" (Shout! Factory), by Crom! 13 episodes on two discs.
"Wikisecrets: Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, And Wikileaks" (PBS) examines what is being called the biggest intelligence breach in U.S. History. The hour-long documentary was originally produced for the PBS series "Frontline."
Award winners, spectacles and cult cinema from beyond our shores
"Winter in Wartime" (Sony), the Netherlands' official entry for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2011 Academy Awards, is a war thriller by way of a coming of age story in Nazi-occupied Holland, where a 13-year-old boy (Martijn Lakemeier) defies his conciliatory father to aid the resistance. It's "an efficient, absorbing example of the form," in the words of Village Voice film critic Ella Taylor. "Updated for a skeptical age, this new World War II movie comes impeccably groomed in period-attentive tans and grays; is written in non-heroic dialogue to suggest ambiguities in the good-evil dichotomies of war stories past; and is sufficiently hopped-up with thrills…" Sony releases it in a Blu-ray+DVD Combo pack, an increasingly common format for special interest films like this in a market of declining sales, with the featurette "The Making in Winter in Wartime" which is, like the film, in Dutch with English subtitles.
Donnie Yen stars in "Bodyguards And Assassins" (Indomina), a Chinese martial arts spectacle that turns the rise of Sun Yat-sen and the birth of the Chinese Revolution into a conspiracy thriller by way of a political tract that ends with an hour of non-stop action combat: "an extremely well-crafted and thrilling chase and fight sequence through the convincingly recreated streets of 1900s Hong Kong," according to IFC critic Matt Singer. "The two parts are so different, it's hard to believe one director, Teddy Chan, made both of them." The film won eight Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Film. The DVD features the original Mandarin-language soundtrack (with English subtitles) plus an English dub option and is packed with featurettes and interviews.
Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Chiara Mastroianni, Emmanuelle Devos, Josiane Balasko and Olivier Gourmet are just a few of the big names in the star-studded line-up of minor roles in the romantic drama "Park Benches" (IFC), about the lonely lives of modern Parisians looking for love. Features deleted scenes. "The Sentiment of the Flesh" (Strand), an erotic drama of less conventional sexual appetites from director Robert Garzelli, is being described as psycho-sexual thriller with affinities to David Cronenberg's "Dead Ringers." Both in French with English subtitles.
From Quebec comes the French-language "Heartbeats" (IFC), the sophomore feature from twenty-year-old director/writer/star Xavier Dolan, who plays one side in a romantic triangle when he and his best friend fall for the same guy.
From Tahmineh Milani, a feminist filmmaker in Iran who was jailed in 2001 for her film "The Hidden Half," comes "Payback" (Facets), a comic crime drama about four women who turn the tables on make predators for fun and profit. The two-disc set features a behind-the-scenes documentary.
The Russian spectacle "The Conqueror" (eOne) is an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's "Taras Bulba" starring Bohdan Stupka as the Ukrainian warrior who raises an army to take on the Polish invaders of his 16th Century homeland. No supplements, but includes an optional English dub soundtrack.
Jorge Michel Grau's "We Are What We Are" (IFC) is a Mexican family drama, except that this is a family of cannibals in the underbelly of Mexico City that has to learn to feed itself after the death of their father. It's "a darkly comic social allegory as well as an atmospheric little genre flick," explains Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman. "This promising first feature is nearly as apt to use the power of suggestion as to ladle up the gore, triumphantly creepy, and just arty enough to have secured a slot in last year’s New York Film Festival. From China comes "The Matrimony" (Tartan), a gothic love story with a supernatural twist.
The Films of Kanji Nakajima:
Who is Kanji Nakajima? This week offers an opportunity to find due to an unexpected confluence of releases.
The Japanese director first received attention stateside when his 2008 science fiction meditation "The Clone Returns Home" (AnimEigo), about the clone of a dead astronaut fixated on a particular memory imprinted on his mind, was picked up on the festival circuit, including the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Michael Atkinson, writing for Criterion Current, compares the film favorably to Andrei Tarkovsky's "Solaris." "Nakajima is all about finding the poetry in the sci-fi," he writes, "and the filmmaker knows when to lunge for those coup de grâce images: the dead spaceman seen from Earth, floating in a blue sky; the anticlone protesters grimly holding portraits of their late-but-cloned loved ones; the clone collapsing after carrying the space-suited corpse (or empty space suit, depending on which perspective we’re experiencing), only to have the suit groggily sit up, pick up his “brother,” and continue the march." The DVD includes a making-of featurette, bios and program notes among the supplements, and a cheeky warning: "Contains significant amounts of philosophy."
"Clone" was his third feature. This week, Pathfinder releases "The Box" (Pathfinder), which collects Nakajima's first two short features: "Fe" (1994), the story of a lonely old painter whose past is inextricably caught up with an abandoned factory, and "The Box" (2003), the story of an aging craftsman who breathes life into the object he creates from the raw materials of the world under his feet. All three features are in Japanese with English subtitles.
Plus "Ironclad" and a whole mess of foreign cinema
Jake Gyllenhaal is a different kind of time traveler in the quantum thriller "Source Code" (Summit), the second feature from "Moon" director Duncan Jones and one of the most interesting science fiction films of recent years. Videodrone's review is here. "Dylan Dog: Dead of Night" (Fox), a lighthearted (and at times lightheaded) monster mash-up mystery, stars Brandon Routh as a human detective in the supernatural underground of New Orleans. Read Videodrone's take here.
More serious is "Trust" (Millenium), starring Clive Owen and Catherine Keener as parents who discover that their teenage daughter's new internet boyfriend is an online predator, a grown man who takes advantage of the trusting girl. Needless to say, the parents—and in particular the father—are out for vengeance, which only complicates the damage to the daughter. "The bravest thing about David Schwimmer’s "Trust" is that it doesn’t try to simplify," writes Roger Ebert in his rave review. "At its core is a remarkable performance by young Liana Liberato," he continues, and he praises the way the film "is above all respectful of her feelings." No supplements on the DVD but the Blu-ray features a making-of documentary and outtakes. Also available as a digital download.
Indie of the week is "Life During Wartime" (Criterion), Todd Solondz's unusual follow-up to "Happiness," with an entirely new cast taking up the roles of the characters years later. It's not exactly a sequel and not always pleasant—I don't count myself among the fans of Todd Solondz, who I find challenging and at times brilliant but too often snide and glib—but Time Magazine critic Richard Corliss hailed it as the best indie film of 2010. "[Todd Solondz's] films will never be mainstream fare; audiences who wander into the theater may well find them derisive, needlessly shocking, perhaps unforgivable," he admits. "But I'd call them, and especially "Life During Wartime," unforgettable." Criterion releases the film on DVD and Blu-ray, accompanied by the original documentary "Making Life During Wartime," an audio Q&A with director Solondz and a new interview with cinematographer Ed Lachman, plus a booklet featuring an original essay by David Sterrit.
"A knight’s tale drunk on carnage," is how Village Voice critic Nick Pinkerton describes the bloody and brutal the medieval battle drama "Ironclad" (Arc Entertainment), which stars James Purefoy, Brian Cox and Paul Giamatti as King John. "Director Jonathan English’s combat scenes are pell-mell hack-ups, with inserts of steel cleaving through torsos and brain-pans guaranteed to please "Deadliest Warrior" aficionados," continues Pinkerton, which should identify its target audience immediately. Features commentary by director Jonathan English.
"Winter in Wartime" (Sony), the Netherlands' official entry for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2011 Academy Awards, is a war thriller by way of a coming of age story in Nazi-occupied Holland. It's just one of many foreign language films arriving on DVD this week. The selection ranges from the star-studded line-up of the romantic drama "Park Benches" (IFC) to the action chops of "Bodyguards And Assassins" (Indomina) to the horrors of "The Matrimony" (Tartan) and "We Are What We Are" (IFC) to a veritable retrospective of Japanese director Kanji Nakajima in two separate releases: "The Clone Returns Home" (AnimEigo) and "The Box" (Pathfinder). I'll be looking at these more in depth later this week in a separate feature
And the rest:
Ever wonder what happened to "Starship Troopers" co-stars Casper Van Dien and Patrick Muldoon? Yeah, me neither, but they just so happen to team up in not one but two low-budget films arriving on DVD this week: the runaway airplane thriller "Turbulent Skies" (Anchor Bay) and the cycle-boys picture "Born to Ride" (Image), the latter directed by James Fargo.
The American show as a Japanese animation series, with demons and monsters done up anime style
"Supernatural: The Anime Series" (Warner) is indeed something unique. The CW network's "Supernatural" became so popular in Japan that Warner joined forces with renowned animation studio Madhouse to re-imagine the show as an animated series of half-hour episodes for TV and home video (DVD, Blu-ray and digital download) in 2011. Over half adapted from live-action episodes from the first two seasons with the rest original scripts created for this project.
It's surprisingly effective, or maybe not so surprising after all; it seems like half of the anime serials are either built around or flirt with the supernatural worlds of demons, ghosts and the paranormal and this show plays on those strengths, even as it streamlines the stories and situations. It drops the characters back in their early days, when their relationship is defined more by brotherly competitiveness than compassion, and plays up the fraternal conflicts. Actually, I guess that makes it very much like the live-action show but with the anime flair for striking graphic imagery of dynamic shots, demonic villains and serene interludes.
For the American DVD/Blu-ray debut, Jared Padalecki voices his character, Sam Winchester, for all 22 episodes, with Andrew Farrar doing a dynamite impression of Jensen Ackles as Dean Winchester. Ackles himself voices Dean Winchester in the final two episodes only, apparently due scheduling conflicts. Padalecki and/or Ackles are also on hand to introduce every episode of the show, sometimes in tandem, often solo, and very rarely with any insight of any kind. Also features the original Japanese soundtrack with Yuuya Uchida and Hiroki Touchi, who voice Sam and Dean in the Japanese dub incarnation of the live action series, back in character for the animated version.
The three-disc DVD and two-disc Blu-ray sets also include the 68-minute Japanese documentary "The Making of Supernatural: The Anime Series" (in two parts, in Japaense with English subtitles) and interviews with actors Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles and series creator Eric Kripke (in English) and directors Shigeyuki Miya and Atsuko Ishizuka and voice actors Hiroki Touchi and Yuuya Uchida, over 90 minutes when added together.
Brandon Routh plays the supernatural PI who knows the undead of New Orleans by name
"Dylan Dog: Dead of Night" (Fox), an American adaptation of the long-running Italian comic book series about a human detective who investigates supernatural mysteries and monsters, is not great. It may not even be particularly good. "Superman Returns" star Brandon Routh, for all his enthusiasm, is not exactly the knockabout tough guy that Dylan's voice-over narration would suggest, and the plot rehashes familiar supernatural conspiracies without adding much ingenuity to the formula.
Yet I am a genre junkie and I found myself enjoying its wry sensibility and its tongue-in-cheek portrait of the undead underground making an existence on the margins of the mortal world in (appropriately enough) New Orleans, even if the film fails to make the most of the atmospheric opportunities. Sure, the vampire nightclub run by Taye Diggs is quite the cliché but the zombies working the morgue gives a whole new definition to deadpan humor and Dylan's kooky assistant (Sam Huntington) turning zombie and working through denial with the help of a support group is a fun twist. And, as Dylan explains, "Undead investigation is old school," which gives a nice retro quality to the New Orleans-set film. Especially as Dylan endures beatings no mortal should be able to walk away from. He may not be hardboiled but he is persistent.
Anita Briem is the client and Peter Stormare brings a touch of gravitas a werewolf pack Godfather, probably the only character who holds any surprises for the audience. Director Kevin Munroe, who had fun with the animated "TMNT" feature, brings the same attitude to this film, which I'm not sure is the right match for the material but seems to fit the tongue-in-cheek tone of the script. It's no surprise that the film flopped in American theaters—it's not like anyone in middle America has even heard of the comic book—but it sure beats the campy cheesiness of a SyFy Original Movie on a Saturday night.
No supplements on DVD or Blu-ray, which is shame. A piece on the original comic, which has a real cult following in Europe, would have been nice.
Addendum: this is not the first film based on the "Dylan Dog" comic and certainly not the best. For that, you should definitely check out "Cemetery Man" (aka "Dellamorte Dellamore") starring Rupert Everett, the actor who served as comic creator Tiziano Sclavi's model for Dylan. It is wicked fun.
A high-concept quantum thriller grounded in humanity
"Source Code" (Summit)
There's a pretty nifty narrative hook on "Source Code," the second film from director Duncan Jones, whose debut feature "Moon" did wonders with a minimal cast and miniscule budget.
His cast and resources are decidedly upgraded here but his story is once again tightly focused on a contained little universe, a specific place and time. Eight minutes, in fact, relived over and over in a loop as Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a soldier suddenly yanked out of time and dropped into another person's skin on a Chicago commuter train, is tasked to find a bomb and, more importantly, the bomber. Failure just rewinds back to the entry point and reboots the stopwatch, at least for a time. And in between, he wakes up in what appears to be a derelict diving bell or space pod. Yet another mystery that his handler (Vera Farmiga) and the mission boss (Jeffrey Wright) remain tellingly vague about.
It's all pretty high concept and ambitious, with quantum physics and alternate dimensions tossed around, but Jones and writer Ben Ripley wisely use the ordeal as a crucible for character and even, oddly but effectively, a romance between Colter and the Christina (Michelle Monaghan), the gal pal of his host body. And it forges a relationship between Colter and his handler, a military officer with issues concerning the way the truth is withheld from Colter, even though their only communication is through a video viewscreen.
Meanwhile, Duncan creates a nifty mystery, snappy action and a real paranoid atmosphere for our (correctly) suspicious hero as he commits himself to his mission, not out of duty to service but responsibility to the folks he ends up getting to know on the train. This time, maybe, he can save them.
"The result is largely engrossing and even, eventually, somewhat moving, and will delight genre fans who've been aching for an intelligent non-franchise sci-fi film for a while," celebrates MSN film critic Glenn Kenny, who has minor quibbles with the film. ""Moon" led some to expect something a little extra, and it's likely that Jones will deliver that extra at some future date. But for now this is better than acceptable."
The DVD features commentary by director Duncan Jones, writer Ben Ripley and actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who bring a real conversation about the film, from its origins to its execution, and offer insight into the collaborative process. The back-and-forth between Gyllenhaal and Jones reveals just how much the actor contributed by challenging and pushing at situations from his character's perspective.
There are none of the usual featurettes and bonus interviews on the DVD but the Blu-ray features "Access: Source Code," a bonus audio-video track with interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, guest commentary by Sergei Gukov, Professor of Theoretical Physics and science advisor on the film and "Focal Points," which explain various concepts introduced in the film (such as quantum physics) in the simplified form of an animated classroom science film. There's also a running trivia track and a countdown clock in the lower left of the screen. No, it doesn't time the eight-minute cycle, it merely counts down to the next supplement.
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week.
Jake Gyllenhaal is a different kind of time traveler in the quantum thriller "Source Code" (Summit), the second feature from "Moon" director Duncan Jones and one of the most interesting science fiction films of recent years. Videodrone's review is here.
"Dylan Dog: Dead of Night" (Fox), a lighthearted (and at times lightheaded) monster mash-up mystery, stars Brandon Routh as a human detective in the supernatural underground of New Orleans. More serious is "Trust" (Millenium), starring Clive Owen and Catherine Keener as parents who discover that their teenage daughter's new internet boyfriend is an online predator. "A knight’s tale drunk on carnage," is how Village Voice critic Nick Pinkerton describes the bloody and brutal the medieval battle drama "Ironclad" (Arc Entertainment), with James Purefoy, Brian Cox and Paul Giamatti as King John.
Indie of the week is "Life During Wartime" (Criterion), Todd Solondz's unusual sequel to "Happiness," with an entirely new cast taking up the roles of the characters years later. Time Magazine critic Richard Corliss calls it "unforgettable."
And on the "wartime" theme is "Winter in Wartime" (Sony), a film from the Netherlands set in Nazi-occupied Holland and just one of many foreign language films arriving on DVD this week. For the rest of the releases, see the Foreign Affairs Round-up here.
TV on DVD:
"Supernatural: The Anime Series" (Warner) is something unique: the CW Network's live-action show reimagined as an anime series for Japanese fans in a collaboration between Warner Bros. and Madhouse Animation Studio. For the American debut of the stylish animated incarnation, Jared Padalecki voices his character, Sam Winchester, for all 22 episodes. Videodrone's review is here.
Cable TV's favorite sidekick gets his own movie in "Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe" (Fox), a feature-length prequel with Bruce Campbell wisecracking through a mission in Colombia. Videodrone's review is here.
"Omnibus: American Profiles" (eOne) features 14 documentary presentations from the legendary non-fiction TV program of the 1950s and "The Street: Season Two" (BFS) offers six more stories in Jimmy McGovern's anthology-like series of intersecting lives on a street in Manchester.
Cool, Classic and Cult:Jean-Pierre Melville's reputation rests predominantly on his amazing string of crime dramas but the director also made three films about the life during the Nazi occupation. "Léon Morin, Priest" (Criterion), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Emmanuelle Riva as an atheist attracted to his intelligence and his charms, is a film as much about faith and desire as it is about the occupation. Videodrone's review is here.
"American Grindhouse" (Kino Lorber) is a documentary on the history of American exploitation cinema, "La Rabbia (The Anger)" (Raro Video) is documentary rarity from Italian directors Pier Paolo Pasolini and Giovannino Guareschi and "Donnie Darko: 10th Anniversary Edition" (Fox) boxes up both versions of the cult film on DVD and Blu-ray in a four-disc set with all the supplements from previous releases plus a digital copy.
The legacy of John Belushi is alive and well in "National Lampoon's Animal House" (Universal), the defining frat house comedy of all time, and "The Blues Brothers" (Universal), John Landis' R&B-driven comedy inspired by the "Saturday Night Live" musical act by Belushi and Dan Ackroyd. Videodrone's review is here.
Akira Kurosawa's "High and Low" (Criterion) stars Toshiro Mifune as an industrialist kingpin with a moral choice that puts his future on the line and "Stargate: Atlantis – The Complete Series" (Fox) collects all five seasons of the science fiction series in a remarkably efficient 20-disc box set.
The complete calendar of releases this week is after the jump: