David Hare in John Le Carre-land
"Page Eight" (PBS), David Hare's low-key political thriller, arrives on DVD and Blu-ray just days after its stateside debut on "Masterpiece Contemporary."
Hare's first original screenplay in over a decade takes us into John Le Carre territory by way of David Mamet, the world of intelligence agents as civil servants in a jungle of bureaucratic gamesmanship. It's not the spy game here, it's a matter of accountability, but information is power and career MI-5 intelligence analyst Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy) is handed some pretty combustible intelligence by his boss and best friend (Michael Gambon), a sort of parting gift from a man who knows he's not long for the service.
It's not the mystery -- which has something to do with "the special relationship" and the disadvantages on the British side of it -- that matters, it's the characters and the gamesmanship. In place of Le Carre's sprawling networks of alliances and betrayals and long histories of double agent dealing, Hare gives is a miniature, stripped down and scripted with underplayed precision. Bill Nighy, a master of dry wit and the uncanny ability to see every situation with a hint of bemusement, plays Johnny as the very model of "mild mannered," but it is a manner. He's smart, crafty and naturally suspicious, and the combination has cost him a couple of marriages and very nearly his estranged daughter (Felicity Jones).
The superb cast also includes Rachel Weisz as his attractive next door neighbor (whose sudden interest in him raises flags of suspicion), Judy Davis as his very competitive colleague and Ralph Fiennes as the Prime Minister, plus Saskia Reeves, Ewen Bremner and Marthe Keller. Quite a lot of stature here and they bring the understated (and somewhat glib) plot to life.
David Wiegand at the San Francisco Chronicle describes it as "a kind of spy story, but a lot of the spy stuff is only partially credible. What we do buy into are the film's exquisite characters and their complex interrelationships, on both the personal and professional levels."
On DVD and Blu-ray, no supplements.
Plus 'Human Resources' from Israel and a Korean remake of 'A Better Tomorrow'
Catherine Breillat's "Sleeping Beauty" (Strand) from France is the second in a proposed trilogy of films revisiting the classic fairy tales from a feminine perspective. Combining elements of "The Snow Queen" with "Sleeping Beauty," it opens as an old world fairy tale -- a newborn is cursed by the crone of a midwife and nymphs ease the death sentence by turning it into a deep 100 year sleep -- and then follows the life of the girl and her sexual awakening into the contemporary world. "Breillat reimagines the slumbering heroine as a gender insurrectionist, freeing her from her most retrograde and enduring cultural representation: Disney's passive damsel," writes Melissa Anderson at The Village Voice. "Breillat’s clarity stands out even more when compared with the half-thought-out, post-feminist notions in Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty"." In French with English subtitles.
"The Human Resources Manager" (Film Movement), a low-key piece of comic drama and cultural negotiation from director Erin Riklis ("Lemon Tree"), sends the hapless HR manager of a Jerusalem bakery on a road trip to Romania, accompanying the body of a foreign worker killed in a suicide bombing. Kenneth Turan praises the film at The Los Angeles Times: "More than anything, this is an intelligent audience picture, a solid and engrossing piece of old-school filmmaking, both humane and character driven, in which the various protagonists learn something - not too much and not too easily - about the nature of their lives." It won five Israeli Film Academy Awards, including Best Film and Best Director. In Hebrew, Romanian and English with subtitles. Also features a short film from Hungary: "Tell Your Children."
"A Better Tomorrow (2010)" (Well Go) is the South Korean remake of John Woo's Hong Kong gangster classic. Woo gets executive producer credit here but unlikely had much to do with the adaptation, which Time Out Hong Kong critic Edmund Lee finds disappointing: "In the hands of director Song Hae-sung, this slick retelling of Woo’s romantic take on codes of honour has captured none of the Sam Peckinpah-esque excess that made the earlier film so damn satisfying." In Korean with English subtitles. Blu-ray+DVD Combo includes a featurette and video interviews with Woo, director Song Hae-Sung and the cast.
Two from the most recent Global Lens Film Initiative series: "Leo's Room" (Global Lens Collection), a Uruguay production set in Montevido, Spain, and "Ocean of an Old Man" (Global Lens Collection) from India, which Village Voice film critic Andrew Schenker cited as the series highlight: "an elliptical, meditative film that uses an accumulation of images and sounds to suggest a sense of loss, desolation, and the possibility of renewal." It includes the featurette "Ocean of an Old Man" and both discs include a film discussion guide.
'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2' brings a satisfying conclusion to the beloved series
It’s been quite a journey, from the bright, gee-whiz world of excitement and possibility that the young heroes encountered in the "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (and they are young; it’s hard to remember they were so fresh and wide-eyed and inexperienced in the first film) to the shadow of doom that hangs over "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1." The final book was split into two movies and "Part 1" is the grimmest of the series. "Part 2" brings the saga to a close with grand spectacle, yes, but also a sense of urgency and mortal stakes, in part because its more active (none of that hiding out in the wilds stuff here) and in part because it finally brings all the conflicts to a mighty showdown. It's the necessary pay-off, the dawn after the darkness of Harry and friends at their most despairing.
I like the work that director David Yates has done with the "Harry Potter" franchise. He doesn't have a playful way with visuals or a gift for spectacle, but he understands the character and invests in their relationships and their evolution. That's what gives the grand spectacle of the final battle -- the wizardocalypse of the magical world, fought appropriately enough on the grounds of Hogwarts, the wizard school where Harry was prepared to meet his destiny -- its dramatic foundation. Sure it’s big, a special effects epic of dueling spells and grand destruction with practically every surviving member of the sprawling cast lining up on one side or another, but by now they aren't just casualties. We know them and their deaths have a resonance. Sacrifice means something in this series. As does friendship and loyalty and respect.
But back to those kids. As we've watched Harry, Hermione and Ron grow up through this series, we've also seen Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson grow up on screen into mature, confident actors. Grint and Watson never establish the necessary chemistry to make their scrappy, screwball attraction work as grown-up romance (perhaps the film's only significant failure in its adaptation) but they are never less than convincing as loyal friends. And Radcliffe holds it all together as the young man who rises to the challenge. Challenge met, I'd say.
"It's all grand stuff, what with turncoat dragons, cursed diadems, Harry's mates Ron and Hermione finding love, tense games of guess-the-wand owner, and much, much more, and it moves along briskly and looks great and is all pretty ... well, impressive but pro forma, with the allowance that with this series, pro forma has always been pretty darn good," says MSN film critic Glenn Kenny. "But then it gets better, actually…. In the end, the thing works like, well, magic, to the extent that this reviewer, who is still not entirely sure what a horcrux is, now that he's learned to spell it, got kind of choked up at the film's very sweet and not at all inapt postscript."
There's not much extra on the DVD, which is limited to a couple of deleted scenes, but the Blu-ray Combo Pack is packed with supplements. The "Maximum Movie Mode" (Warner's version of the interactive audio-video track) for this disc is hosted by Matthew Long (Neville Longbottom) with guest appearance by other cast members, who step in to freeze the film and take the viewer through key scenes. Sometimes the picture-in-picture featurettes and commentary run parallel to the film, other times the film is paused for a documentary detour, extending the experience by close to 40 minutes. You can also access these featurettes separately via "Focus Points."
The other major supplement is "A Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe," which offers the viewers nearly an hour in the company of the author of the books and the star of the movies chatting about the novels, the movies, the characters and the world behind it all in a relaxed setting between two people who know it all very well but come to it from very different perspectives.
Also features eight deleted scenes, the featurettes "The Women of Harry Potter" and "The Goblins of Gringotts" and a brief video farewell among the rest of the extras, as well as a bonus DVD and an Ultraviolet Digital Copy, which offers a different kind of digital experience. This one is not downloaded but accessed in the cloud. It requires an Internet connection, but in return it offers access through multiple devices, and allows the viewer to sign off from one device and continue viewing on another where you left off.
Looking in on the scenes deleted from Lynch's 1986 masterpiece, now recovered and presented on the Blu-ray release
While it's become a kind of Hollywood exercise for directors to re-edit and extend films for home video, David Lynch has never succumbed to the temptation. The film that arrives in theaters is, for better or worse, the film that will live on.
In terms of "Blue Velvet," it is decidedly for the better. After the frustrations of "Dune," producer Dino De Laurentiis gave Lynch a free hand and creative control over "Blue Velvet" and Lynch released the film as he intended it to be seen.
The Blu-ray debut of "Blue Velvet" (MGM) features a newly remastered edition of the film, but it also features a unique peak into the creative process of Lynch with a collection of recently rediscovered deleted scenes: 50 minutes of visions, both lovely and horrible, human and hellish.
See below, after the jump, for an exclusive look at a never-before-seen deleted clip. Warning: for mature audiences only for language
These pieces were pared away in the editing, like a sculptor chiseling away to get to the perfect form, but they are full of visual delights and offbeat humor, narrative sidetrips and character embellishments. Some scenes simply cast a mood of unease or anxiety over the proceedings. Yet all are glimpses into the inspiration and explorations of Lynch as a filmmaker and marvelous addenda to the finished film, a look into roads not taken and details whittled away to reach the narrative focus and tonal balance of the final piece.
While Lynch is never one to revise a finished film, he's clearly proud of the work in these deleted scenes. "It was too much of a good thing," is how he once explained cutting a favorite scene, but he's happy to share those good things with us. He personally supervised the editing of these clips into a 50-minute supplement on the new Blu-ray. (For more on the search for the footage, see Cath Clark's article in The Guardian.)
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week.
With the days shorter and the nights colder, it is now more than ever the season for movies at home. Here's what new this week.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" (Warner) brings the saga to a close with grand spectacle, yes, but also a greater sense of urgency and mortal stakes than "Part 1," in part because it's more active (none of that hiding out in the wilds stuff here) and in part because it finally brings all the conflicts to a mighty showdown. For anyone who has invested themselves in the movies, it pays off with a satisfying conclusion, because director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves honor the story and the characters. There's not much extra on the DVD but the Blu-ray is packed with supplements. Note that this arrives on Friday, November 11. Videodrone's review is here.
Swinging bachelor Ryan Reynolds and family man Jason Bateman swap bodies in "The Change-Up" (Universal), a comedy promoted as "from the director of "Wedding Crashers" and the writers of "The Hangover"," so you know what you're getting.
"Atlas Shrugged: Part 1" (Fox), an independently produced adaptation of the first section of Ayn Rand's novel, received some of the worst reviews of the year. "13 (2010)" (Anchor Bay), Gela Babluani's English language remake of his own 2005 European thriller, was not any more successful, despite a cast that includes Ray Winstone, Mickey Rourke and Jason Statham.
Foreign films this week include Catherine Breillat's "Sleeping Beauty" (Strand) from France and Erin Riklis' "The Human Resources Manager" (Film Movement), a low-key piece of comic drama and cultural negotiation from Israel. More on Videodrone here.
TV on DVD:
Just days after its stateside debut on "Masterpiece Contemporary" comes "Page Eight" (PBS), David Hare's low-key political thriller with Bill Nighy as a career intelligence analyst for MI-5. David Hare's first original screenplay in over a decade is John Le Carre territory by way of David Mamet, stripped down and scripted with underplayed precision. The superb cast also includes Rachel Weisz, Judy Davis, Felicity Jones, Michael Gambon and Ralph Fiennes as the Prime Minister. Videodrone's review is here.
"Doctor Who: Series Six, Part Two" (BBC) completes the strange and amazing story of River Song and brings the Doctor back to the shocking event that opened the season: the death of the Doctor. It's a trip and Videodrone tags along here. Also from across the pond is "Case Histories" (Acorn), the new British mystery series based on the novels by Kate Atkinson and starring Jason Isaacs.
"Mr. Magoo: The Television Collection" (Shout! Factory) collects over 30 hours of animated shows and TV specials from 1961-1977 in an 11-disc box set. "Band of Brothers/The Pacific Special Edition Gift Set" (HBO) pairs up the two acclaimed HBO World War II mini-series on DVD and Blu-ray. Videodrone's review is here.
Flip through the TV on DVD Channel Guide here
Cool, Classic and Cult:
Humphrey Bogart dons the collar in "The Left Hand of God" (Twilight Time), playing a Catholic priest in a Chinese mission in 1947. If that doesn't strike you as a Bogart role, just wait, it gets there.
"Great Directors" (Kino Lorber) presents conversations with ten of the world's great directors (from Bernardo Bertolucci and Catherine Breillat to John Sayles and Agnès Varda), and "Produce Your Own Damn Movie!" (Troma) is the third collection of DIY filmmaking tips from exploitation auteur Lloyd Kaufman and friends (from David Cronenberg to Roger Corman to The Duplass Brothers).
"Blue Velvet" (MGM), David Lynch's masterpiece of the rot under the picture-perfect façade of small town idealism, debuts on Blu-ray with a treasure trove of recently discovered deleted scenes. They aren't added to the film, mind you -- Lynch's original version is his director's cut, no compromises made -- but they are included as a supplement and offer more textures and possibilities for fans to explore. Videodrone's review is here and you can see an exclusive deleted clip here.
"Fanny and Alexander Box Set" (Criterion) includes both the Oscar-winning theatrical version of Ingmar Bergman's most autobiographical film and the longer mini-series version he created for Swedish television, as well as two documentaries and a 1984 interview with the director.
Dustin Hoffman is "Little Big Man" (Paramount) in the satirical western, Marlon Brando stars in the 1962 "Mutiny on the Bounty," Gus Van Sant directs Nicole Kidman to one of her best performances in "To Die For" (Image) and Terry Gilliam directs Jeff Bridges in "The Fisher King" (Image). On the cult front is William Wyler's "The Collector" (Image) with Terence Stamp and the tongue-in-cheek horror comedy "Frankenhooker" (Synapse).
The complete calendar of releases this week is after the jump:
|Tags:||Week in review|
Frustrated with Netflix? Here are a few alternatives for streaming video
The Netflix plan was brilliant. Emphasis on was. After defining and dominating the DVD rent-by-mail market, the company dove into streaming video, made deals with Blu-ray and PSP manufacturers to install software to stream Netflix content to TVs and made the service part of the Netflix subscription: a library of thousands of movies and TV episodes available for free instant viewing, as well as New Releases that could be rented for a fee.
And then they alienated a large part of their subscriber base by deciding it was time to charge for the service at the very time households were cutting back on expenses. It was a self-inflicted wound created by bad timing and PR management and they lost 3 million subscribers in the last quarter. Meanwhile Blockbuster has made a play to take some of the rental-by-mail business and launched a streaming service partnership with Dish Network, the satellite service. And then there's Hulu Plus, the pay component of Hulu, which includes a deal to stream titles from the Criterion library (including films not yet available on Criterion DVD or Blu-ray).
Dave Kehr explored some of the rarities and oddities available via Netflix Instant and Hulu Plus for the New York Times (read it here) and you can add Amazon Instant Video and iTunes to the list of options, with thousands upon thousands of movies and TV shows accessible on a per-title basis, the equivalent of a virtual rental or digital purchase. They are all industry heavyweights who don't need a plug from me.
Here are a couple of alternate services that offer a different kind of line-up and, unlike Netflix, don't demand a complete commitment. You can subscribe or simply pick a la carte. But if you are tired of the sameness of the New Release rack, these services offer something different.
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
'Cars 2' - Big Oil, Detroit Lemons and Secret Agent Cars
Exclusive Clip: 'Water for Elephants' - Reese Witherspoon joins the circus
The New Release Rack: 'Crazy, Stupid, Love.,' 'Tabloid,' 'Trespass,' 'Snow Flower,' Ken Kesey and more
TV on DVD:
'His Way' celebrates an Old Fashioned Show Business Mogul
The Cool and the Collectible:
Lon Chaney is the one and only 'Phantom of the Opera'
Bargain: 50% Off Criterion at Barnes & Noble
Coming up next week:
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" (Warner) (Friday, November 11)
"The Change-Up" (Universal)
"Atlas Shrugged" (Fox)
"13" (Anchor Bay)
"Sleeping Beauty" (Strand)
"The Human Resources Manager" (Film Movement)
"Great Directors" (Kino Lorber)
"Page Eight" (BBC)
"Doctor Who: Series Six, Part Two" (BBC)
"Blue Velvet" (Blu-ray) (MGM)
"Mutiny on the Bounty" (1962, Blu-ray) (Warner)
"Fanny and Alexander Box Set" (Blu-ray) (Criterion)
"Frankenhooker" (Blu-ray) (Synapse)
|Tags:||Week in review|
Two urban crime pictures from the western director, plus a bonus Joseph Cotten western
Despite the efforts of such fans as Clint Eastwood, who produced two documentaries on the director, and Martin Scorsese, Budd Boetticher is still a name known mainly to film historians and fans of classic westerns. Boetticher made some of the greatest, purest, most austere westerns of all time: "Seven Men From Now" (available from Paramount), "The Tall T," "Comanche Station" and "Ride Lonesome" (the latter three in a box set from Sony and Scorsese's The Film Foundation). But like any successful director of the era, Boetticher made a lot more than just westerns. Yes, he did direct three bullfighting dramas (talk about a specialized niche), but he made war pictures, adventures, youth dramas, mysteries and crime pictures. Two of his best crime films arrived almost simultaneously via MOD earlier this.
Between his big studio breakthrough at Universal (where he made nine pictures in two years, most of them westerns) and his first of seven pictures with Randolph Scott, Boetticher directed "The Killer Is Loose" (MGM Limited), a 1956 crime drama starring Joseph Cotten as a police detective whose wife (Rhonda Fleming) is targeted by an escaped criminal looking for payback. Wendell Corey is superb as the soft-spoken bank teller turned robber who becomes twisted by revenge and pretty much slips over the edge of sanity. Boetticher's biggest strength is efficiency and restraint, creating a camaraderie in the police squad room and a sense history between Cotten and his partner (Michael Pate), and he's at his best building tension through dialogue and stillness that builds to a sudden burst of action. When Corey takes his former sergeant (John Larch) hostage, he never looses that quiet, deliberate composure, calmly reasoning his way to murder and executing his sacrifice without hesitation. Boetticher punctuates the gunshot with one of the great images of explosive violence: a shattered milk bottle. The sudden explosion shatters the tension of the deliberately measured scene and the burst of white milk against Larch’s black suit gives the sound a striking visual dimension.
It's a stand-out moment in an otherwise conventional film. Cotten is less compelling as the married man trying to keep the truth of the dragnet from his wife (Fleming, who plays the part like a society girl making a sacrifice to live middle class) but then he was never a good fit for these kinds of everyman roles. Alan Hale (before his tour of duty as The Skipper on "Gilligan's Island") provides a little comic relief as an amiable beat cop with a big appetite and a good heart. Presented Academy Ratio full screen (1.33:1).