Plus 'The Last Circus" from Spain, 'The Names of Love' from France, 'The Robber' from Austria and more
"Aftershock" (China Lion), currently the most popular domestic blockbuster in Chinese history, spins a family melodrama through two devastating earthquakes, opening with the 1976 earthquake that assaulted Tangshan, China and killed an estimated 240,000 in a city of around a million people. This is no disaster film, however. The spectacle is used to illustrate the scale of the event that shatters one family, and the "Sophie's Choice" decision by a hysterical, panicked mother that haunts the survivors over the decades. The shadow of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake not only hangs over the film, it bookends it in a respectful and touching way. No recreation here, simply a survey of the aftermath as those who survived 1976 return to help here. In between is a sprawling melodrama and an interesting survey of China during and after Mao.
A marriage of historical prestige picture and popular melodrama, "Aftershock" is a crowd pleaser with real-life resonance and no political subtext – kind of like China's version of "Titanic." It's full of the sentimentality that we tend to dismiss as hokey overkill, but director Feng Xiaogang uses it as a respectful way to explore loss and pay tribute to the lives lost and damaged in the two quakes. It didn't get the international acclaim or attention of the Chinese arthouse auteurs like Chen Kaige or Zhang Yimou or Jia Zhangke but it sure brought in audiences in China, where it made $100 million.
Which makes it an interesting choice to launch China Lion, a DVD label releasing (in partnership with New Video) big, popular, star-powered productions from mainland China. In the coming months, this label will be releasing the kinds of Chinese imports that you may not have realized even played the U.S. because they skipped the arthouse and went directly to multiplexes in communities with large Chinese and Asian populations. Among the upcoming titles: a Chinese remake of "What Women Want" with Andy Lau and Gong Li. Seriously, did you even know it existed? In Chinese with English subtitles, no supplements.
Alex de la Iglesias' "The Last Circus" (Magnet) combines horror and satire in the perverse crucible of a dysfunctional circus and an obsessive love triangle to measure Franco's legacy in Spain. This insane clown showdown is "deranged and grotesque and spectacular" and a "near-masterpiece," according to Salon.com film critic Andrew O'Hehir. "[I]f you like your baroque sex and violence with a side dish of heavy-duty symbolism, and if the idea of an unholy collaboration between, say, Guillermo del Toro, Federico Fellini and William Castle appeals to you, then put "The Last Circus" on your must-see list right now." On DVD and Blu-ray, in Spanish with English subtitles, with "The Making of The Last Circus" and other behind-the-scenes featurettes.
The romance is a lot more buoyant and sexy in "The Names of Love" (Music Box), a cheerfully romantic comedy of opposites in love starring Jacques Gambin as a tightly-wound scientist and Sara Forstier as a young, free spirited liberal who sleeps with right-wing men who seduce them to her cause. "Forestier's performance is a tour de force of comic acting, maintaining astonishing alertness and energy from shot to shot and scene to scene," praises San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle, and indeed she won the Best Actress Cesar for her performance. In French with English subtitles. Supplements include "The Making of The Names of Love," deleted scenes and the bonus short "A Could Have Been a Hooker."
"The Robber" (Kino Lorber), from Austria, turns the true story of a world-class runner with a double life as a lone wolf bank robber (or is it the other way around?) into an austere, spare portrait of a largely impenetrable personality. Philadelphia Inquirer critic Steven Rea writes that the film is "Exhilarating and, ultimately, filled with a sense of existential dread." In German with subtitles, no supplements.
Plus 'You Got to Move,' 'The Shock Doctrine,' hip-hop 'Beats' and Star Trek 'Captains'
To make "Page One: Inside the New York Times" (Magnolia), filmmaker Andrew Rossi was given unprecedented access to the fabled newsroom to watch the men and women of America's "paper of record" at work. It was simply his good luck to observe the paper's difficult transition to a web-based news culture, a transition that its very survival counted on.
"Andrew Rossi's love letter to The Gray Lady, and old-style news reporting, is never fatuous or doting," assures MSN film critic Kathleen Murphy. ""Page One" can be as tense as any thriller, starring the journalistic equivalent of colorful private eyes, collaboratively sniffing out and debating complex truths." The colorful cast of this detective story includes executive editor Bill Keller, editor Bruce Headlam, reporter Brian Stelter and the eccentric David Carr: "the star of "Page One," all snap, crackle and unpredictable pop."
On DVD and Blu-ray, both featuring bonus scenes and extended interviews with Carl Bernstein, Emily Bell, Sarah Ellison and others, plus a Q&A with the filmmakers and featured subjects among the supplements.
Milestone revives the 1985 shot-in-video documentary "You Got to Move: Stories of Change in the South" (Milestone), Lucy Massie Phenix and Veronica Selver's celebration of grass roots activism in the South (from civil rights to protecting the environment), is restored for a DVD debut. "A deserved Valentine to The Highlander Research and Education Center," is how DVD Savant Glenn Erickson describes the film. "Phenix and Selver's lively interviews introduce us to what can only be described as some fairly ordinary citizens empowered by their willingness to stand up for their beliefs." The DVD features cut scenes, bonus interviews and excerpt from "Bill Moyers Journal" featuring an interview with Myles Horton, longtime leader of The Highlander.
Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross team up for "The Shock Doctrine" (Kim Stim/Zeitgeist), an adaptation of Naomi Kline book about the insidious concept of "disaster capitalism" and its practice over the past four decades.
Michael Rapaport makes his directing debut with "Beats Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest" (Sony), his profile of the influential hip-hop band on the occasion of their reunion ten years after breaking up. On DVD and Blu-ray, with director commentary, deleted scenes and featurettes.
Movies and TV:
William Shatner interviews the actors who played starship captains in the "Start Trek" franchise for "The Captains" (eOne). Chris Pine, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew and Scott Bakula compare notes with the original Captain Kirk. Features a bonus featurette.
"More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead" (CAV) presents itself as "the definitive "Return of the Living Dead" documentary." At over two hours long, it should be, and the disc includes an additional two hours of supplements, including an archival interview with director Dan O'Bannon and featurettes on the two "Return of the Living Dead" sequels.
"Fire in Babylon" (Tribeca) is the story of West Indian cricket team and its ascension to the top of the sport once dominated by Britain. "Boys of Summer" (Tribeca) tackles another underdog: a boys baseball team from the Caribbean island of Curacao and their road to Little League World Series championship.
And MSN has an exclusive clip from the new edition
"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Blu-ray+DVD Ultimate Collector's Edition" (Warner) - Recently, while visiting with friends one night, the adults decided to put on a DVD to keep the kids entertained while we visited. "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" started up and within minutes we realized out mistake, but it was too late. We were just as caught up in the film as the kids were.
See an MSN exclusive clip from the new edition below
Because "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" is that rare breed: an imaginative live-action kid's film that engages and delights adults. For all the wonder of a film, with its bouncy, silly songs, art design in candy colors, and mix of innocence and strangeness, there is also an edge to Gene Wilder's simultaneously weird and warm eccentricities, like a mix of storybook fantasy and Grimm Fairy tale updated to the industrial world of the twentieth century. The pure imagination of the world inside the factory is an escape from the dreary reality of soot-covered town, and by extension the taste of a Wonka bar is a little piece of paradise.
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have tried their hand at adapting Roald Dahl's classic fantasy but even Burton's madcap imagination can't match the perfect balance that director Mel Stuart (a major documentarian of the sixties and seventies) and Dahl (who adapts his own book) bring to the production, and Depp fails to bring the mix of mystery and magic and dark and light of Wilder's knowing incarnation.
"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Blu-ray+DVD Ultimate Collector's Edition" (Warner) is the biggest release of this evergreen yet. Which is not to say there is a lot of new supplements to this box. The new interview featurette with director Mel Stuart isn't very long (about 12 minute) but it is quite lovingly made and features new interview snippets with his children (who had bit parts in the movie) and two of grown child actors from the film. (See an exclusive clip from this new featurette below, after the jump.)
The newly-discovered archival featurette "A World of Pure Imagination" is about the same length. This extended promotional piece includes some priceless behind-the-scenes footage, including composers Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse performing bits from the score and an interview with Roald Dahl along with a peak at his home and family.
The alien invasion ends with sound and fury, signifying little, but it's still kind of fun
"V: The Complete Second Season" (Warner) - Talk about hedging your bets. When ABC launched the remake of "V," the hit sci-fi mini-series turned short-lived traditional series of the eighties, it opened with a half-season and followed it with an even shorter second season. Maybe they were trying to recapture that mini-series zeitgeist. Maybe they looked to the cable model of shorter, more focused seasons. Or maybe it was just the price tag of this visually lavish show. Whatever the reason, they tried for an event and ended up with a show that ultimately lasted 23 episodes.
Quick recap: The aliens arrive, hovering over the planet in a couple of dozen ships spread over the major cities of the globe, promising benevolence while plotting to conquer the planet. Elizabeth Mitchell ("Lost") leads the human resistance against the insidious PR campaign waged by ruthless Visitor queen mother Morena Baccarin ("Firefly") and the players line up accordingly behind these warrior women. Conspiracies, rebels, traitors, family crisis and melodramatic complications, not to mention secret experiments on human subjects and lots of things blowing up, follow, all unleashed at a furious pace.
As even the most ardent fans will agree, "V" was never a particularly smart show. Certainly not "Battlestar Galactica" smart. It had plenty of plot twists and double lives and contrived conflicts that could always be leveraged for a little extra dramatic mileage (especially between parents and their rebelling children), but mainly it was a dire big-budget TV action spectacle with a science fiction backdrop. It made a point of proving it with every episode.
Frankly that's what I liked about it. It was a big B-movie serial with a network TV budget and actors who brought gravitas and grit (or at the very least commitment) to pulp fiction roles. The second season simply upped the ante by expanding the human resistance while contriving (and I use the word purposefully) situations that isolate practically every major character within their own conflicts, compromises and personal agendas.
As I try to satisfy my sci-fi TV jones with "Terra Nova," I miss "V"'s commitment to delivering a war of the worlds with conspiracies, double agents, revolutionary cells and aliens hiding their lizard identities and master race endgame under human skin and feigned compassion. Great? No, but in its own humorless, way-too-serious way, it delivered invasion spectacle and conspiracy drama with all the pulp satisfaction of a cheesy space opera. "We are of peace. Always."
As befitting a such with this kind of tech credentials, the second season arrives on Blu-ray as well as DVD with its limited run of ten episodes, along with deleted scenes for most episodes and two featurettes. The 21-minute "A Visual Masterpiece for the Small Screen" may overstate the case but otherwise it's an interesting look at the visual effects and the show's extensive use of green screen. "The Arc of the Story: Mining the Human Emotion" is a 25-minute piece on direction of season two, with interviews apparently conducted before the show's cancellation.
Depp bobs and weaves through the fourth film in the waterlogged franchise
"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (Disney) is proof that even in this era of franchise films, CGI effects and $200 million budgets, star power counts. In the diminishing returns of this waterlogged series of films based on a theme park attraction, it's Johnny Depp and his surefooted portrayal of punch-drunk pirate knave Captain Jack Sparrow that keeps the course.
Much of the original crew jumped ship before this installment and Gore Verbinski surrenders the helm to director Rob Marshall, who stages slapstick like dance choreography and action like a theme park ride. Which I guess is appropriate, but about as engaging as the soggy romantic stand-ins for Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom: Sam Claflin, as a missionary of a sailor, and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, as a captured mermaid (in this film, they are more ferocious mythological harpies than Disney damsels), are young and pretty but hardly make an impression. Geoffrey Rush tries to single-handedly make up for them with his trademark scenery chewing bluster (which, in this case, is welcome) and Ian McShane spins his dark charm as Blackbeard, while Penélope Cruz brings the hot sauce as the tempestuous love interest for Jack while they search for the Fountain of Youth. Oh, did I forget to mention that? Yeah, that's the goal this time. Like it matters.
"It does, I have to admit, tend to bog down in the seemingly infinite twists and bits of business leading up to the climax, and movie-overfed-critic types are likely to fondly recall the better movies, including "I Walked With a Zombie" and "The Princess Bride," that this draws inspiration from," confesses MSN film critic Glenn Kenny, who gives the film more of a pass than I do. "(T)he "Pirates" movies have, from the beginning, tended to be bloated, overdetermined, noisy and nonsensical…. But I myself think that kind of misses the point. For as logy and simultaneously action-packed and incoherent the "Pirates" movies are as cinematic stories, they are in fact very effective and welcome movie environments."
Then again, Kenny saw the film in the theater in 3D, where the big screen spectacle and crazy details are better able to distract from the lack of story or logic or character. Shrink it down to home theater, even on a generous screen, and the environment just becomes a backdrop, and an awfully busy one at that.
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (Disney) dredges up the waterlogged adventure franchise for yet another big-budget spectacle that equates furious action and visual momentum for plot and story. Only Johnny Depp keeps this foundering film afloat, but it was a box-office hit and there's at least one more in the offing. Arrives on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D editions, as well as digital download. Videodrone's review is here.
Cameron Diaz makes for a really "Bad Teacher" (Sony), which MSN critic Glenn Kenny praises as a "refreshingly raucous comedy." Selena Gomez gets the royal treatment in the tweener romantic fantasy "Monte Carlo" (Fox), with Leighton Meester.
Chris Weitz takes a stab at exploring the American Dream in "A Better Life" (Summit) while "Red State" (Lionsgate), a horror film billed as "an unlikely film from *that* Kevin Smith," makes the culture wars literal.
"Page One: Inside the New York Times" (Magnolia), the acclaimed documentary made with unprecedented access in the fabled newsroom, is the top pick for a solid week of non-fiction films. Among the other titles are "The Shock Doctrine" (Kim Stim/Zeitgeist), Michael Winterbottom's film of the Naomi Kline book, and "Beats Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest" (Sony). The True Stories round-up is here.
And it's another hefty week for cinema imports. "Aftershock" (China Lion), currently China's all-time biggest blockbuster, spins a family melodrama through two devastating earthquakes. Alex de la Iglesias' "The Last Circus" (Magnet) combines horror and satire to measure Franco's legacy in Spain. "The Robber" (Kino Lorber), from Austria, is based on the true story of a world class runner with a criminal double life. "The Names of Love" (Music Box) from France, meanwhile, is a cheerfully romantic comedy of opposites in love. Giuseppe Tornatore directs the family epic "Baaria" (Image). Complete Foreign Affairs round-up is here.
TV on DVD:
"V: The Complete Second Season" (Warner) brings the 21st century reboot of the eighties invasion series to with an abbreviated ten-episode season and conspiracy just beginning, but the spectacle is sure impressive. Videodrone's review is here.
"The Rise and Fall of Margaret Thatcher" (BBC) offers a portrait of the Prime Minister through three BBC productions made between 2002 and 2009, with Thatcher played by three different actresses: Andrea Riseborough, Patricia Hodge and Lindsay Duncan.
"Gigolos: The First Season" (CBS) is just one of the many cable reality shows this week. Poppy Montgomery is the former schoolteacher turned pop-culture wizard in the new TV movie "Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story" (Lifetime).
For animation fans there's the debut of the Nickelodeon series "CatDog: Season One, Part One" (Shout! Factory), "Star Wars – The Clone Wars: The Complete Season Three" (Warner) and a new edition of "Robotech: The Complete Series" (A&E).
The TV gift sets are starting to roll out with new editions of "Little House on the Prairie: The Complete 9 Season Set" (Lionsgate) and "America: The Story of Us – Collector's Edition" (History), which comes with book.
Cool, Classic and Cult:
"Batman: Year One" (Warner), based on the Frank Miller-scripted graphic novel about the early years of Batman and Jim Gordon (before he was Commissioner) in the cesspool of a corrupt Gotham City, is to date the best of the DC Universe Original Animated features. A must for Batman and graphic novel fans, and it features a bonus "Catwoman" short. Videodrone's review is here.
Kaneto Shindo's "Kuroneko" (Criterion), one of the great ghost stories of Japanese cinema, debuts on DVD and Blu-ray, while "Aki Kaurismäki’s Leningrad Cowboys: Eclipse Series 29" (Criterion) boxes up two crazy comedies, one concert film and a collection of music videos from this amazing collaboration. Videodrone's review is here.
"You Got to Move: Stories of Change in the South" (Milestone), the 1985 documentary of grass roots activism in the south, is restored for a DVD debut. Less political are two pop culture documentaries: "The Captains" (eOne), directed by William Shatner and featuring all the captains of the "Star Trek" franchise, and "More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead" (CAV) about Dan O'Bannon's lively sequel.
"Trancers: The Ultimate Deth Collection" (Flatiron) features all five films in the early direct-to-video sci-fi crime franchise and "Captain America (1979) / Captain America II: Death Too Soon" (Shout! Factory) is a TV-movie double feature with Reb Brown as a poor substitute for the patriotic hero.
"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Blu-ray+DVD Ultimate Collector's Edition" (Warner) is quite the deluxe edition of the fantasy classic. Some of the extras are silly little gewgaws but there is also a bonus disc of all-new supplements and an accompanying book (not a booklet but a full-sized production) by the director. And, of course, the movie on DVD and Blu-ray. That's the real golden ticket. Videodrone's review is here.
"The Crow" (Lionsgate), a perennial cult favorite among the dark comic-book movies, finally arrives on Blu-ray after (and only months after the inferior sequel was released). Also debuting on Blu-ray this week: the muscular World War II mission thriller "The Guns of Navarone" (Sony) with Gregory Peck, Martin Scorsese's remake of "Cape Fear (1991)" (Universal) with Nick Nolte and Robert DeNiro and Federico Fellini's "I Clowns" (Raro Video), which marks the first American Blu-ray release from Italy's Raro Video.
Peruse all the new Blu-rays here
The complete calendar of releases this week is after the jump:
|Tags:||Week in review|
Your guide to our coverage of the new DVD/Blu-ray releases
Here's what's new on DVD and Blu-ray this week as featured on Videodrone
Wonder, terror, mystery and 'The Tree of Life'
'Green Lantern' – Not Quite the Brightest Day for this Comic Book Hero
The New Release Rack: Comedy Week with 'The Trip,' 'Horrible Bosses' and 'Terri'
TV on DVD:
'Chuck: Season Four' – Spy Games
'Bones: The Complete Sixth Season': Fun With Forensics
The Cool and the Collectible:
'Great Italian Directors' on DVD and Blu-ray
Blu-ray Round-up: 'Harakiri,' 'Salò,' the 1953 'The Bad Seed,' 'Maniac Cop' and more
B-Noir and Forgotten Crime: 'The Threat,' 'Follow Me Quietly' and 'The Captive City' are minor pictures with some major pleasures
Watching with Jessica Chastain, star of 'The Tree of Life'
Streams and Channels:
Coming up next week:
"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (Disney)
"Bad Teacher" (Sony)
"Monte Carlo" (Fox)
"Red State" (Lionsgate)
"The Names of Love" (Music Box)
"Aki Kaurismäki’s Leningrad Cowboys: Eclipse Series 29" (Criterion)
"Batman: Year One" (Warner)
"V: The Complete Second Season" (Warner)
"Star Wars: The Clone Wars™ The Complete Season Three" (Warner)
"The Rise and Fall of Margaret Thatcher" (BBC)
"The Crow" (Blu-ray) (Lionsgate)
"The Guns of Navarone" (Blu-ray) (Sony)
"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary" (Blu-ray) (Warner)
|Tags:||Week in review|
'The Threat,' 'Follow Me Quietly' and 'The Captive City' are minor pictures with some major pleasures
"The Threat" (Warner Archive), a 1949 programmer from Felix E. Feist, opens with a rat-a-tat energy, quite literally: a prison break, a whining siren, and then the almost unbroken blasts of machine gun fire standing in for a musical underscore during the opening credits. All accomplished with a couple a few simple sets against the black of night. That's making the most of limited resources. And that's part of the pleasure of this kind of cinematic archeology.
Felix Feist is no auteur but he made some minor classics of the noir genre, notably "The Devil Thumbs a Ride" and "Tomorrow is Another Day." Here he has a good story (if not always a great script) and a truly menacing heavy in Charles McGraw as death-row killer Red Kluger, his tenor gravel and heavy frame carrying the threat of the title in every step and speech. Red isn't simply engineering a getaway, he's plotting his revenge against everyone who put him in prison and getting rid of anyone standing in his way.
We're not talking lost masterpiece here; Feist is saddled with flat dialogue ("Now you know how a good detective works. When he finds something, he calls!"), generic sets and a cast of frankly non-charismatic leads (Michael O'Shea adequate as the cop hero, Robert Shayne a real stiff as his partner, and Frank Conroy almost a non-entity as the D.A..). But Virginia Grey is superb as a trampled flower of a showgirl and Feist allocates his limited budget cleverly, saving his resources for a few set pieces, notably the finale in a hunting cabin where the wait for a getaway plane drags on and the tension turns to violence with a dynamic crane shot and a brutal bare-knuckle brawl. This is the kind of punch that low-budget crime films could and, at their best, did deliver.
"Follow Me Quietly" (Warner Archive), a 59-minute thriller from Richard Fleischer (soon to be a major studio director but in 1949 paying his dues in specialty shorts and B-movies), is just as good, and just as limited. This was clearly timed to play the bottom of a double bill, but it has better production values than most B-movies and Fleischer devotes much greater care to the direction. He's announcing his ambitions here.
William Lundigan is the lead detective on the trail of a self-styled executioner called "The Judge" and Jeff Corey is his loyal, supportive partner, supplying the wry remarks as Lundigan applies modern techniques to build a physical and psychological profile from a smattering of clues: an early profiler in a shadowy film noir world. Fleischer does a tremendous job of whipping up drama from a generally static script, though even he can't generate much heat from the love-hate tension between Lundigan and spunky, persistent reporter Dorothy Patrick. But while Fleischer garnered well-deserved kudos for a couple of sharp cinematic stings involving the dummy they mock up from the clues, his more impressive achievement is the eerie mood he creates from a generic backlot city street set and the chase finale he stages in an industrial plant, full of pipes and tanks and catwalks and ladders, a labyrinth that Fleischer employs superbly before the film's final jab. (You should just ignore the romantic comedy of the framing coda, just one of those conventions of B-crime movies designed to left audiences back out of the darkness before send them out of the theater.)
Both of these films are given solid presentations: no frills, as is the MOD way, but solid, sharp masters from clean prints. They are fine looking discs.
Robert Wise is another director who used the B-movie unit as a training ground and graduated to bigger things. His 1952 film "The Captive City" (MGM Limited Edition Collection), made after his big-budget success "The Day the Earth Stood Still," is kind of a return to form, a tough yet austere little crime story carved out of a small budget.. Inspired by the Kefauver hearings into organized crime (Senator Estes Kefauver supposedly penned to film's forward and appears in person in the afterward) and anticipating the "Confidential" exposé films of the fifties, it's a low-key thriller of a small town newspaperman (John Forsythe) who discovers that organized crime has infiltrated and corrupted his picture-perfect little town. After turning down a blatant bribe to keep quiet, a campaign of intimidation from folks he once considered his friends in the community turns deadly and Wise matches the shift by casting darkness over what we've seen as a sunny little slice of American values.