Five features celebrating the glories of French silent cinema
"French Masterworks: Russian Émigrés in Paris 1923-1928" (Flicker Alley) presents of the DVD debut of five silent classics from Film Albatros, a French studio founded by Russian artists: "The Burning Crucible," "Kean," "The Late Mathias Pascal," "Gribiche," and "The New Gentlemen."
Three of the films star Ivan Mosjoukine, the great Russian actor who fled the revolution and landed in Paris, and the other two are directed by Jacques Feyder. All of them are examples of the sophisticated filmmaking coming out of France in the twenties.
Which is not to say that they are all masterpieces -- "The Burning Crucible" (1923), which not only stars Mosjoukine but is written and directed by the actor, is inventive and full of lively images and playful techniques but is all over the place and jumps willy-nilly through styles and episodes -- but they are all tremendously entertaining and full of filmmaking energy. Mosjoukine plays eleven roles in "The Burning Crucible," including the leading role of Detective Z, a man of many disguises, and Mosjoukine the director rolls Russian formalism, German expressionism, and French surrealism together in a simplistic but richly imaginative story that at times borders on craziness of Louis Feuillade's serials of the previous decade.
Mosjoukine also stars in "Kean" (1924) as the great 19th century stage actor Edmund Kean and in "The Late Mathias Pascal" (1926), the fantasy epic directed by Marcel L'Herbier that Flicker Alley released on Blu-ray earlier this year. I reviewed it for Videodrone here.
The final pair of films in the set are from Jacques Feyder.
Plus 'Frankie Go Boom,' 'Texas Chainsaw,' 'Back to 1942,' and more
"Cloud Atlas" (Warner), the sprawling, dazzling, ambitious collaboration between "Matrix" makers Lana and Andy Wachowski and Germany's Tom Tykwer weaves together the six distinctive stories in six different eras with a cast that reappears throughout the timelines. Check out MSN's exclusive "Cloud Atlas" infographic and enter to win a Blu-ray combo pack from MSN and Warner Home Video. Videodrone's review is here.
"A Glimpse Inside the Mind Of Charles Swan III" (Lionsgate), the first feature from Roman Coppola since "CQ" more than a decade ago, stars Charlie Sheen as a hedonistic, ego-fueled graphic artist facing an early-life crisis when his girlfriend (Katheryn Winnick) dumps him over his philandering ways. Because he can't fathom why she would leave him over a couple of dozen affairs. The film "means to wed an examination of questionable human behavior to a fizzy pop-art ethos, and possibly to examine the connection between the two," explains MSN film critic Glenn Kenny. "It doesn't quite make it, alas."
Coppola is a longtime Wes Anderson friend and collaborator and he drafts a couple of other Anderson compatriots, Jason Schwartzbaum and Bill Murray, to co-star as Swan's friends and equally oblivious support group, while Patricia Arquette plays his supportive sister.
Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary by Coppola, a featurette on the film, and an interview with real-life L.A. artist Charles White III (whose life and career inspired Coppola's screenplay). Also at Redbox
"Frankie Go Boom" (Universal), a comedy about sibling rivalry and practical joking gone awry, stars Charlie Hunnam as Frankie, eternally tormented by brother Chris O'Dowd who finally goes too far when he posts a sex tape of Frankie's disastrous one-night-stand with Lizzy Caplan. "Though deliciously rude and crude, [it] possesses a surprisingly sweet heart," recommends MSN film critic Kat Murphy. ""Boom"'s script is rife with wit and raunch, and the clearly all-in cast deftly pitch one gagline after another, creating over-the-top characters who nonetheless project genuine, if grotesque, humanity." Blu-ray and DVD, with featurettes and deleted and alternate scenes.
"Texas Chainsaw" (Lionsgate), the most recent low-budget reboot of the horror series, picks up where the 1974 original leaves off… sort of. It was originally released in 3D and arrives on Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, and DVD, with two commentary tracks and lots of featurettes, plus a digital copy of the film for portable media players and an UltraViolet digital copy for download and instant streaming. Also On Demand and at Redbox. Reviews here.
"Leonie" (Monterey, DVD) stars Emily Mortimer as an American translator in Japan at the turn-of-the-20th Century (reviews here) and "If I Were You" (Kino Lorber, DVD) is an indie romantic comedy starring Marcia Gay Harden, Leonor Watling, and Adain Quinn (reviews here).
"Back to 1942" (Well Go), directed by Feng Xiaogang, looks at the Henan province disaster, a drought that devastated the region and led to an exodus and mass starvation. This big-budget production his headlined by Chinese stars Zhang Guoli, Chen Daoming and Xu Fan and features Adrien Brody and Tim Robbins in supporting roles. Chinese with some English dialogue and English subtitles, Blu-ray and DVD, also On Demand. Reviews here.
"Escape" (eOne) is a Norwegian thriller set in the dark ages, ten years after the Black Death, where a teenage traveler is hunted by a pack of brigands who slaughtered her family. Director Roar Uthaug previously made the acclaimed "Cold Prey." Blu-ray and DVD, with a featurette, deleted scenes, and bloopers. Reviews here.
Most releases are also available as digital download and VOD via iTunes, Amazon, and other web retailers and video services.
The seventh season of the Showtime series brings sister Debbie into Dexter's secret life as a serial killer
"Dexter: The Seventh Season" (Paramount) - In the final seconds of the sixth season of "Dexter," everyone's favorite serial-killer hero (Michael C. Hall) was caught in the act of a ritual killing by his adoptive sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), who just happens to be a police detective on the Miami police for.
No surprise, then, that season seven deals with Deb coming to terms with the fact that her beloved brother (and yes, she loves him in ways that are more than sisterly) has been behind an awful lot of the murders her department has investigated (solved and unsolved) and is not going to alter his lifestyle just because she knows about it. Dexter, meanwhile, is determined to convince her that not only can’t he stop, but he shouldn't, since he's ridding the world of… well, guys like him. The difference is that Dexter is far more selective about his victims. If you have to kill, might as well make it count.
Complicating matters is a new love for Dexter, who just happens to be (former) killer in her own right (Yvonne Strahovski), because it's always nice to have a partner who shares your hobbies, and an Eastern European hitman (Ray Stevenson) who has personal reasons for coming after Dexter, though just how personal only becomes clear in the back end of the season.
While a distinct improvement over "Season Six," the show still wants for a nemesis as compelling as the guest killers of the first seasons and the personal struggles that accompanied them. This time around, Dexter is coming to terms with the idea of the "dark passenger" and taking responsibility for his own actions. Which is oddly empowering, itself an unusual concept when discussing a serial killer. It's Deb who faces the real confusion, but in the strange ways of this series, both Dexter and Deb end the season with the same realization: family trumps all.
The series returns to Showtime this summer for its eighth and final go round.
12 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with a bonus copy of the pilot episode of the Showtime series "Ray Donovan" (available only via UltraViolet digital copy on Blu-ray). There are also episodes of the Showtime series "The Borgias" and "House of Lies" on the DVDs only, which makes this the rare release where there's more supplements on the DVD version. Still, most of the supplements require a little extra effort to access them, which is a little unnecessary considering the capabilities of disc engineering at this point.
It's all connected! A spectacular visual of how the characters are intertwined
It’s all connected! This exclusive "Cloud Atlas" infographic breaks down the films biggest connections and offers fans nuggets they may have missed the first time around. Check it out!
"Cloud Atlas" is available on Blu-ray combo pack, DVD and digital download starting May 14.
Enter to win a Blu-ray combo pack and watch Tom Hanks discuss his multi-dimensional character
From acclaimed filmmakers Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, and Andy Wachowski, the powerful and inspiring epic drama “Cloud Atlas” explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future.
Action, mystery and romance weave dramatically through the story as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future.
Watch this exclusive clip as Tom Hanks and Lana Wachowskis discuss Hanks' multi-dimensional character in "Cloud Atlas" and enter to win the Blu-ray combo pack!
Here’s how you enter the giveaway!
3. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message: I want to win the @MSNmovies #CLOUDATLAS giveaway!
4. Stay in touch with MSN Movies Facebook to see if you've been selected as the winner
Entries are accepted until Friday, May 17. Good luck, MSN Movies fans!
Films by Howard Hawks, Jean Renoir, John Ford, and other greats debuting on disc thanks to manufacture-on-demand
Howard Hawks made his sound film debut with "The Dawn Patrol" (Warner Archive), a World War I aerial warfare theater drama of American pilots facing daily slaughter against the better-equipped German fighters. Richard Barthelmess is the squadron leader and ace pilot who berates their commander (Neil Hamilton) over the grueling mission schedule and devastating fatalities, then finds himself making the same demands when he's promoted to command and taking the daily orders from HQ. War is hell indeed and it gets chewed over in a lot of dialogue scenes that that hit the point a little too square on the head, especially as Hamilton barks his objections to HQ over the phone. Which isn't that unusual for early sound movies.
What's more interesting is the watching Hawks develop the culture of what would become his signature world of professionals facing death on a daily basis. In the air, these young men have become battle-hardened killers. On the ground, they are raucous, hard drinking, scrappy. When only half the squadron returns from a mission, they don't mourn. They sing. "A toast to the men who have died before us and a toast to the next man to die." In fact, in the vernacular, they don't die. They have "gone west."
While some of the ground drama has the stiffness of early sound movies, Hawks creates energy within the frame and even manages to track some of the characters with small but effective movement (no small feat when the camera is locked in a giant soundproof box). But his aerial footage is amazing, equal to the big-budget spectacle of the Oscar-winning "Wings" or Howard Hughes' "Hell's Angels," with thrilling shots in the air, amazing crash footage, and superb miniatures for the bombing runs. And Hawks reminds us that war is brutal. When German ace flyer Von Richter (the film's fictional stand-in for Von Richtoffen, the Red Baron, branded with a skull and crossbones on his plane) taunts the Americans by dropping to boots of a pilot shot down over enemy lines, Barthelmess and his best pal, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., declare a two-man war on the enemy field.
Because nothing proves yourself in Hawks' world than teaming up for a suicide mission.
"This Land Is Mine" (Warner Archive) - Made in 1943, Jean Renoir's second American film directly takes on the Nazi occupation of his native France with a drama set in an unnamed backlot European country town designed as an almost idealized old world version of a Paris village. He's working again with Dudley Nichols, who had written for Ford and Hawks and wrote Renoir's first American film, "Swamp Water," and he has a superb cast toplined by Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara, and George Sanders. Laughton is a timid schoolteacher, a coward and a mother's boy who is considered a joke by his students (it's both humiliating and heartbreaking when he collapses into terrified sobs in a bomb shelter), who finds himself in the unexpected position of becoming a symbol of resistance, if he can only summon the courage. It's really quite beautiful, and Renoir and Laughton give the scenes in the classroom an offhanded humor that becomes bittersweet by the end.
"The Model and the Marriage Broker" (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives) is as light as the title would suggest, but George Cukor fills the 1951 romantic comedy with personality and warmth. Jeanne Crain is the model of the title, a beauty involved with a married man, and Thelma Ritter is the matchmaker who can’t help but take her on as a personal project and try and fix her up with a nice young doctor (Scott Brady). It's minor Cukor next to his great movies -- "The Philadelphia Story," "Gaslight," "Holiday," "What Price Hollywood?" and many others – but the director has a deft way with such conventional material and has fun with his oddball group of lonely hearts paired up by Ritter.
More directors, more debuts:
"The Rising of the Moon" (Warner Archive) – Irish-American director John Ford adored and even idealized Ireland and he returned to the land of "The Quiet Man" for this trilogy of lighthearted short stories. Tyrone Power introduces the film but the stars are the players of Dublin's Abbey Theatre Company.
We remember the maestro of movie fantasy with ten great Ray Harryhausen releases
As the story goes, Ray Harryhausen was inspired to explore the possibilities of stop-motion animation after seeing "King Kong" with his best friend. That said friend was Ray Bradbury makes the story irresistible. That Harryhausen went on to apprentice under Willis O'Brien, the very man who sculpted and animated the king of the jungle and the first great artist of stop-motion magic, makes it legend.
Across the web, tributes and remembrances have been legion, and no surprise. Harryhausen’s creations dazzled so many future film critics and historians in their formative years and turned many a movie-hungry child into a genre hound. He wasn't a film director, not in the conventional sense, but he was undeniably the auteur of his films since "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad," when he turned producer and started developing his own productions around the glorious creations he crafted to life in the adventures.
Just a few months ago, I had the pleasure of revisiting some of Harryhausen's greatest moments for an article. And once again, just as when I was a kid, I was transported when his creatures came alive on the screen. I was never "fooled" into thinking his Cyclops or prehistoric dinosaur or dueling skeletons were real in any way. His movie magic wasn't great because it was realistic. It was great because it was beautiful, alive, and filled with character and personality. He filled his films with wonder.
Ray Harryhausen died last week at the age of 92. He had essentially retired from filmmaking after "Clash of the Titans" (the 1981 version, not the terrible CGI remake) but he spent his final decades seeing a new generation discover his films on video and DVD. He put out books, talked about his work disc releases, and appeared at festivals and conventions, where he was unfailingly generous with his time when talking to fans, old and new. I was one of the older ones, but more moving than getting a few minutes of his time was watching him encourage a young fan, a kid around 10 or 12, to follow his muse and create.
Here are my ten picks for celebrating the legacy the ray Harryhausen, one of the great dreamers of the movies. Most of these, by the way, are only available on disc, so please, give a little love to your friendly neighborhood video store.
1 – "Mighty Joe Young" (1949, DVD, Warner) – Fifteen years after "King Kong," Willis O’Brien won finally won his much deserved Oscar for creating yet another ape, this one the humongous playmate of Terry Moore. Joe is a marvelous creation and the climax, where he risks his own safety to rescue children trapped in an orphanage fire is as touching as it is thrilling. Harryhausen, an ambitious young animator who had worked on George Pal Puppetoons and military shorts, worked with his hero for the first and only time and pays tribute to O'Brien on the DVD commentary track.
2 - "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" (1953, DVD, Warner) - One of the essentials of the giant monster on the rampage of the nuclear 1950s, this isn’t an atomic mutation but a slumbering prehistoric giant (a Rhedosauras, to be specific) awakened from its icy suspended animation by nuclear tests. The first creature feature work by legendary stop motion animator Ray Harryhausen is a dinosaur spectacle dropped in the urban jungle and it highlights this clunky but endearing piece of B-movie pulp “inspired” by Ray Bradbury’s short story "The Foghorn." Harryhausen give this rampaging beast just a touch of melancholy: a lost creature just looking for home.
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Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week
"Jack Reacher" (Paramount), based on the ninth novel in Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" series, brings the action hero to the screen with Tom Cruise in the lead. Fans were resistant – Cruise is not exactly the strapping six-foot-two-inch figure described by Child in the books – but Child gave his approval, director / screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie wrote a sharp adaptation, and Tom Cruise is an actor who commits completely to his films. Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand and at Redbox. Reviewed on Videodrone here.
"Safe Haven" (Fox), this season's Nicholas Sparks adaptation, pairs up Julianne Hough as a mysterious beauty with a dangerous past and Josh Duhamel as a ruggedly handsome widower. MSN has a giveaway for Mother's Day; details on the contest and the prize package here. Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand.
"Mama" (Universal) is "a good old-fashioned horror story" starring Jessica Chastain. Guillermo Del Toro, who knows a thing or two about eerie horror with human dimensions, produces. Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand.
"Upstream Color" (New Video, Blu-ray+DVD Combo and On Demand), the latest headtrip from filmmaker Shane Carruth, hits disc while still fascinating audiences in theaters. "Starlet" (Music Box, Blu-ray and DVD) is an indie character drama from Sean Baker. "The Rabbi's Cat" (GKids, Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack) is an animated feature from France and "Citizen Hearst" (HBO, DVD) is a documentary on William Randolph Hearst that received a limited theatrical release.
Most releases are also available as digital download and VOD via iTunes, Amazon, and other web retailers and video services.
TV on Disc:
"Fringe: The Complete Fifth and Final Season" (Warner) brings closure to the brainy weird science fiction show of parallel universes and dimension-hopping villains with a final chapter set twenty years in the future. It's not the show's best season but it is a memorable wrap to an ambitious show that filled the gap left by "The X-Files" with stories built around trippy concepts. 13 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD. Also arriving is the box set "Fringe: The Complete Series" (Warner, Blu-ray and DVD). Videodrone's review is here.
"30 Rock: Season 7 – The Final Season" (Universal), meanwhile, brings happy endings to Tina Fey's madcap sitcom of life in the halls of network television and insane TV stars. 13 episodes, DVD. Reviewed on Videodrone here.
"Steel Magnolias" (Sony) is the updated TV movie remake of the hit stage play with Queen Latifah, who co-produced the film for Lifetime. "Liberace: The Ultimate Entertainer" (Timeless) is a two-disc set of TV appearances featuring the flamboyant pianist and celebrity entertainer. Both DVD.
Plus: "K9: The Complete Series" (Shout Factory, DVD), the 2009 "Doctor Who" spin-off for the kid set, and the end of the run for two more TV shows: the contemporary medical drama "Private Practice: The Complete Sixth and Final Season" (ABC, DVD) and the classic western "Have Gun-Will Travel: The Final Season" with Richard Boone (Paramount, DVD).
Cool and Classic:
"Band of Outsiders" (Criterion) is one of Jean-Luc Godard’s most cinematically playful films, an anti-"Jules And Jim" love triangle crime caper with Anna Karina (Godard's muse of the early sixties) as the innocent sucked into the schemes of best friends Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey. Criterion released it on DVD a decade ago but remasters it from a new 2010 high-definition restoration for its Blu-ray debut. Videodrone's review is here.
"The Great Escape" (Fox), the prison escape classic starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Charles Bronson and directed by John Sturges (of "The Magnificent Seven" fame), debuts on Blu-ray for the film's 50th anniversary.
"Superman: Unbound" (Warner) is the latest DC Universe Animated Original Movie, this one based on the graphic novel "Superman: Brainiac." Blu-ray and DVD, with lots of supplements.
Marlon Brando made his screen debut in "The Men" (Olive) and the superstars of old Hollywood come out in "The Enforcer" (Olive), the 1950 crime thriller with Humphrey Bogart, and "Cloak and Dagger" (Olive), a World War II conspiracy thriller with Gary Cooper. All on Blu-ray and DVD.
"Shanghai Noon / Shanghai Knights" (Touchstone) presents the respective Blu-ray debuts of both Jackie Chan / Owen Wilson old west action comedies in a double feature. And arriving on Blu-ray from Fox is "The Verdict" (Fox) with Paul Newman in one of his great performances, "Brubaker" (Fox) with Robert Redford, and "Viva Zapata" (Fox) with Marlon Brando (the latter previously available exclusively in a box set).
New on Netflix Instant:
"The Cabin in the Woods" (2011) is the wily, witty, very entertaining love letter to horror movie fandom from director Drew Goddard and co-writer / producer Joss Whedon.
"John Dies at the End" (2012), from cult filmmaker Don Coscarelli, sends two college dropouts (Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes) on a drug-induced journey into another dimension where an invasion of Earth may be underway.
Netflix recently got a lot of hate press when some 1800 titles expired last week. But don't panic, there's a big batch of new titles filling in the back catalog, from classics like "The Three Musketeers" (1975) and "Pulp Fiction" (1994) to hits like "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (2001) and "Dirty Dancing" (1987) to films waiting to be rediscovered like "Big Night" (1996) with Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub, "Murder by Decree" (1979) with Christopher Plummer as Sherlock Holmes, and "The Man in the Moon" (1991) and the film debut of Reese Witherspoon.
New On Demand:
"Jack Reacher," with Tom Cruise as Lee Child's tough-guy drifter hero, toplines the On Demand offerings this week. Also arriving same day as disc is the Nicholas Sparks romantic drama "Safe Haven" with Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel, the horror film "Mama" with Jessica Chastain, the headtrip indie drama "Upstream Color" from Shane Carruth, and the suburban satire "The Oranges."
Available before disc release is the mob comedy "Stand Up Guys" with Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin, and the documentary "Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey," the portrait of a Journey cover band.
Arriving Friday, May 10, same day as its theatrical debut, is the horror film "Aftershock" with Eli Roth and Selena Gomez. And available before it hits theaters is the action film "Vehicle 19" with Paul Walker.
Available from Redbox this week:
"Jack Reacher" (Paramount) arrives same day as disc and digital on both Blu-ray and DVD. Also arriving in Redbox kiosks this week: "Hyde Park on Hudson" (Universal) starring Bill Murray as Franklin D. Roosevelt, "John Dies at the End" (Magnolia) from cult filmmaker Don Coscarelli, and the spoof "A Haunted House" (Universal).