Plus Lindsay Lohan in 'Liz and Dick,' Australia's 'Dance Academy,' and more
In "Dexter: The Seventh Season" (Paramount), Showtime's blackly-comic series about TV's favorite serial-killer hero, Dexter's (Michael C. Hall) adoptive sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) learns his secret. Which puts a strain on things, to say the least. Videodrone's review is here.
"The Bletchley Circle" (PBS) is a self-contained British mystery mini-series that could easily launch a continuing series. Set in early 1950s London, it brings a rich culture to a familiar genre of TV mystery: the specialist who brings their unique talents to solving murders. In this case, it's actually four women who worked together in the code-breaking division of British Intelligence in World War II and are reunited by Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin), the team's puzzlemaster who has been following the unsolved case of a London serial killer.
This casts a darker shadow over the material than the British mysteries of old while tackling a little social commentary. All of the women are expected to return to docile lives and housewives and mothers and no one (at least no man) seems prepared to even acknowledge their intelligence and talent, let alone their frustration with society's dismal of their potential. But they are also characters in their own right, taking on this private investigation not for the thrill of it, but out of anger, frustration, and the knowledge that thanks to their analytical skills they see a pattern that the police ignore. They are, after all, just women and investigation is best left to the men.
Blu-ray and DVD, with cast and crew interviews.
"Liz and Dick" (eOne) debuted last year as the Lifetime Network's most watched original movie, thanks to the celebrity casting of Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor: one paparazzi-hounded celebrity portraying another. Los Angeles Times TV critic Mary McNamara brands it "a wildly graceless biopic that careens through the decades-long relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton with more petulance than passion, knocking down gin bottles and rumpling silk sheets for no better reason than that's what it says to do in the script." Grant Bowler plays Burton to her Taylor and Theresa Russell and David Hunt co-star. DVD with cast interviews.
"Dance Academy: Season One" (Flatiron), the Australian team drama set among the first-year students at a ballet school in Sydney, made its stateside debut last year on the cable channel TeenNick. As the second season continues on cable, the first arrives on DVD, split over a pair of volumes of two-disc sets with 13 episodes apiece.
"Fraggle Rock: 30th Anniversary Collection" (Vivendi) repackages the entire run of Jim Henson's musical Muppet series for its anniversary in a box set of 21 discs. If that's bigger than you're looking for, you can also get the single-disc "Fraggle Rock: Meet the Fraggles" (Lionsgate), a six-episode collection that includes the pilot episode. Both DVD.
And more for the kids: "Taz-Mania: Taz on the Loose" (Warner) presents 13 episodes from the first season of the animated series on two discs. And on the live-action side, "VR Troopers: Season Two, Volume One" collects 20 half-hour episodes on three discs and "Power Rangers Samurai Vol. 4: The Sixth Ranger" (Lionsgate) features four episodes on one disc. Both DVD.
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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