HBO's vampires are top disc sellers, but MTV's wolves deliver a better show
"True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season" (HBO), HBO's gothic pulp vampire melodrama, goes for broke with the most extreme season yet: more blood, more conspiracies, more transformations, and way more internal wars within and between the species.
Bill and Eric (Stephen Moyer and Alexander Skarsgård) get called before the Vampire Authority, a cult-like vampire cabal (led by guest star Christopher Meloni) with an insidious plot that involves the vampire goddess Lilith and hallucinogen-fueled trips. The werewolf pack gets a scruffy new alpha who makes them the V-addicted lapdogs of the vampires. War vet Terry (Todd Lowe) is pursued by a fire demon. Heartbroken Hoyt (Jim Parrack) joins an anti-vamp hate group. Jason keeps screwing himself into more trouble. The Fey… will, they just keep partying on in their alternate dimension nightclub. And, how yeah, Tara is a vampire and she's pretty pissed about it.
Oh Sookie! Our ostensible heroine (Anna Paquin) seems just a bystander anymore, the all-purpose damsel in distress for a growing number of protectors (add Joe Manganiello's wolfman Alcide to the ranks). It's all pretty silly and feels rudderless, like a supernatural soap opera tossing everything into the mix for shock value and exploitation spectacle (blood and sex: the pay-cable formula!). It's the final season with series creator Alan Ball (who took the characters from Charlaine Harris' books and went his own way with them) and seems out of ideas. Hard to tell if things will get better with the next season, but there are a lot of fans who figure any change has got to be an improvement at this point.
The show still has passionate followers addicted to the supernatural soap opera and the discs remains TV bestsellers. That's fine, but for those less sanguine about the changes in the show, might I suggest taking a look at "Teen Wolf: Season 2" (Fox).
MTV's entry in the supernatural teenager series, is turning out to be one of the best of the genre, interesting and engaging and a lot smarter than "True Blood." The first season (available on DVD, Netflix Instant, and VOD) reworked the eighties horror comedy as a coming-of-age drama by way of young adult melodrama for the post-"Buffy" era, with a supernatural Romeo and Juliet story at the center: teen wolf Tyler Posey is in love with new girl Crystal Reed, who just happens to come from a line of werewolf hunters.
We reveal one of the witches to you so you can partake in the hunt
Stars Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are the brother and sister team seeking to avenge their parents’ deaths as they face evil greater than anything they’ve seen before. The digital release of the unrated cut of “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is now available so you can watch the adventure unfold before your eyes! To celebrate MSN Movies is partnering with Paramount Pictures so you can be a part of the witch hunt.
The first person to find all six witch images and uncover the secret URL will win an iPad mini with digital versions of the theatrical and unrated cut of “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” You also have a chance to win a trip to the premiere of “World War Z” the latest film starring Brad Pitt.
"Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" digital release is available now and the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack is available starting June 11.
For all you hunters out there, here is the first of six witches that will be revealed!
Soderbergh's intelligent take on a familiar genre reminds us how much we'll miss his touch
Steven Soderbergh says that "Side Effects" (Universal) is his last theatrical feature before retirement (he doesn't count his upcoming made-for-HBO film "Behind the Candelabra"). The modestly scaled but satisfying thriller reminds us just how much we'll miss his take presence on the big screen.
What begins as a medical drama of wonder drugs and pharmaceutical conspiracy turns into a sly psychological thriller, with Jude Law as a committed psychiatrist and Rooney Mara as a troubled patient with a coldly calculating soul. Law prescribes a new, experimental drug to combat her depression and anxiety attacks (recommended by fellow therapist Catherine Zeta-Jones, all very controlled and steely), Mara ends up killing her husband (Channing Tatum) in a sleepwalking nightmare, and the more he looks into the suppressed side effects of the drug, the more suspicions are raised about the whole situation. Meanwhile the film's observation on how cozy the medical profession is with the pharmaceutical industry, and how her murder trial is intertwined with big business and medical malpractice, puts a whole new angle on the stakes of the murder trial.
"Side Effects" is less twisty in retrospect than it appears as the drama unfolds moment to moment. Like so many of Soderbergh's films, it turns on human nature, perception, and expectations, which Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns play with to great effect. As Law's ambitious, seemingly sincere, and possibly paranoid psychiatrist says, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Fittingly the entire last act rests on that simple observation.
Soderbergh has been bringing a sharp intelligence and a strong understanding of character to his films throughout his career, but beginning with "Out of Sight," he's been playing increasingly with genre films and pulp stories and making clever, intriguing, surprising films of them. (I cover many of them in a survey of Soderbergh's career for MSN Movies here.) He doesn't refashion the stories so much as hone in on their reason for being and focus on those aspects, pulling character out of types and fashioning human stories out of plots. "Side Effects" is like Soderbergh's take on the Joe Esterhaus thrillers of the nineties, only smarter, more clinically-focused (as Soderbergh is wont to do), and without the ice picks. For all the twists, this is a thriller that turns on character.
MSN film critic James Rocchi proclaims it "a nice farewell: fun and smart, with cutting satire and blunt shocks. In fact, looking at the shooting and story of "Side Effects," it's almost perfect."
Blu-ray and DVD, with featurettes and the two fictional pharmaceutical commercials seen the films. The Blu-ray also includes a bonus DVD, digital copy of the film for portable media players, and UltraViolet digital copy for download and instant streaming.
Enter to win a Blu-ray collection of the great gangster movies, classic and contemporary
Warner Bros. created the modern gangster movie in the early thirties, when they were the kings of high-energy, street-smart filmmaking. The genre remained dear to the studio throughout its history.
They pay tribute the best of their gangster films, yesterday and today, with two Blu-ray box sets: "Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics" (Warner) and "Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Contemporary" (Warner). Both debut on Tuesday, May 21.
To celebrate the release, MSN and Warner Home Video are giving away a gift set of both volumes: nine films in two sets.
"Classics" offers the respective Blu-ray debuts of four landmark gangster movies -- "Little Caesar" (1931) with Edward G. Robinson, "The Public Enemy" (1931) with James Cagney, "The Petrified Forest" (1936) with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, and the incendiary "White Heat" (1949) with Cagney -- plus a bonus DVD with the documentary "Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film."
"Contemporary" collects five films that have previously been released on Blu-ray, including three by Martin Scorsese -- "Mean Streets" (1973), Oscar-nominates "Goodfellas" (1990), and Oscar-winning "The Departed" (2006) -- plus Brian DePalma's "The Untouchables" (1987) with Kevin Costner and Robert DeNiro and Michael Mann's "Heat" (1995) with DeNiro and Al Pacino.
See a clip for "Heat" below.
Enter to win by following these steps:
1. Like MSN Movies on Facebook and Twitter
2. Tweet and comment the following message: I want to win the @MSNMovies #ULTIMATEGANGSTERS giveaway!
3. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message: I want to win @MSNMovies # ULTIMATEGANGSTERS giveaway!
4. Stay in touch with MSN Movies Facebook to see if you’ve been selected as the winner
Entries are accepted until Monday, May 27. Good luck, MSN Movies fans!
In the meantime, enjoy a clip from "Heat."
And much more in Videodrone's first monthly round-up of documentary and non-fiction releases
"Mel Brooks: Make a Noise" (Shout! Factory), the new profile of the legendary writer / director / actor / producer / all around funnyman from filmmaker Robert Trachtenberg, premieres on the PBS arts showcase "American Masters" on Monday, May 20, and debuts on DVD the next day. "A raconteur of the first order, Brooks is also gifted with near-total recall, and a wit that hasn’t ebbed with the passage of time," writes Variety TV critic Brian Lowry. "In Robert Trachtenberg’s film, Brooks concedes every bad review is like “a knife through your heart.” In savoring this valentine, that organ and every other can rest easy."
Shout! Factory has been doing right by Brooks, with its deluxe five-disc set "The Incredible Mel Brooks" (featuring some other standout documentaries and specials on Brooks) released in 2012. This joins the ongoing tribute, and the disc features bonus segments filmed for but not included in the documentary.
"Citizen Hearst" (HBO) profiles William Randolph Hearst, the legendary media mogul and yellow journalist, and the empire that continues on in his wake. "Sometimes "Citizen Hearst" feels as breezy and electric as the newsreels Hearst pioneered," observes Village Voice film critic Alan Scherstuhl, "other times it feels like the video they'll make you watch during orientation on your first day at 300 West 57th." Leslie Iwerks directs and William H. Macy narrates. DVD, with 30 minutes of bonus footage and the "Heart Castle" episodes of the A&E series "America's Castles."
"Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters" (Zeitgeist) profiles the acclaimed photographer as he worked on his magnum opus, a collection of massive prints he called "Beneath the Roses." "For those unfamiliar with Crewdson’s oeuvre, the docu serves as a delicious eye-opener, while for fans it furnishes an unprecedented look at his long-secret methods, utilizing crews and budgets suitable for independent features, by which his eerily frozen moments of Americana come into being," writes Variety film critic Ronnie Scheib. The DVD includes deleted scenes, bonus interviews, and a Q&A at a screening at LACMA with director Ben Shapiro, Crewdson, and writer Jonathan Lethem.
"Last Summer Won't Happen" (Icarus) is a 1968 portrait of the East Village culture after the summer of love, with Abbie Hoffman, Paul Kassner, and Phil Ochs (among others) commenting on the political changes in the counter culture movement. Peter Gessner and Tom Hurwitz direct, and the disc features the bonus 1966 short "Time of the Locust" from Gessner and new interviews with the filmmakers. DVD.
"Witness: A World in Conflict Through a Lens" (HBO), a four-part series from producer Michael Mann and director David Frankham, follows three combat photojournalists through some of the most dangerous places in the world. Not war zones per se, but regions rife with drug trafficking, poverty, gangs, and corruption in Mexico, Brazil, Libya, and South Sudan. The series was produced for HBO, one of the few networks that still invests in investigative journalism and social and political documentary filmmaker. DVD. Review at The Hollywood Reporter.
The six-part "Marley Africa Road Trip" (Arc) follows brothers Ziggy, Riohan, and Robbie Marley on a motorcycle road tour across Africa, with stops along the way for concerts. Director David Alexanian previously shot the motorcycle road trips of Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor. DVD.
'3:10 to Yuma' and 'Jubal' get the Criterion treatment
"3:10 to Yuma" (Criterion)
Delmer Daves was a Hollywood pro with a long career and an impressive filmography. He established himself as a screenwriter with a series of light comedies and romantic melodramas (including the original 1939 "Love Affair") before stepping behind the camera with the World War II adventure "Destination Tokyo." Like most directors of his era, he moved easily between all genres – war pictures, romances, melodrama, and a few noir-inflected dramas (notably "The Red House" and "Dark Passage"), but he proved his affinity for the western from his very first effort in the genre, the 1950 classic "Broken Arrow." Along with his fine eye for imagery, Daves brought a psychological dimension and an adult sensibility to his westerns. In his best films, his characters had relationships and emotions that came out of real life.
Criterion's stamp on two of his most interesting westerns may help bring a little more attention to the director. "Jubal" (Criterion) is the first of three westerns Daves made with actor Glenn Ford, already a seasoned western presence by 1956. Here he's an itinerate cowhand and a wary loner hired by rancher Ernest Borgnine, a garrulous, generous guy who becomes both father figure and best friend to the emotionally bottled up cowhand. It's been called "Othello" on the range, with Rod Steiger as the bitter ranch hand playing Iago to Borgnine's Othello, but the Desdemona of this piece is no innocent victim but a dark, exotic beauty (she's Canadian, apparently to explain away Valerie French's accent) in a stifling marriage to the sincere but crude and boisterous cattleman. Young and deeply disenchanted, she sets her eyes on the simple, stoic cowboy.
This is less a Shakespeare western than a Hollywood melodrama in chaps and Daves was a seasoned hand at both genres. He favors suspense to action and violence, tightening the tension until Steiger (himself spurned by French) finally pushes his boss over the edge and the cycle of violence begins. Even then, the violence is brief and abrupt and Daves leaves the most brutal assault offscreen. Noah Beery Jr. and John Dierkes offer easy-going support as Ford's friendly bunkmates and fellow cowhands and Charles Bronson takes a small but key role as a plain-speaking cowhand whose loyalty to Ford's Jubal is unshakable even when Steiger turns the town against him. Daves brings out Bronson's easy-going humor and understated style, a side so rarely tapped by other directors.
The sprawling, dazzling, ambitious epic gets a second life on home video
"Cloud Atlas" (Warner) wants nothing for ambition. Jumping between six distinctive stories in six different eras, with a cast that plays different (yet connected) parts in the various storyline, it's at once literal and evasive, a film that wears its heart on its beautifully stitched sleeve and its meaning in its design and yet finds so many facets in which to mirror its ideas throughout its incarnations. Which it does for almost three hours, in stories that span centuries, from the slave trade of the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic culture centuries into the future.
Lana and Andy Wachowski ("The Matrix" trilogy) collaborate with Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run" and "Perfume"), adapting David Mitchell's novel together and splitting the directing duties. They all seem to be on the same page here, charting both the best and worst in mankind through the ages and into the future. The continuity of character throughout can be comic (see Hugo Weaving as the eternal thug through ages, as if Agent Smith escaped the Matrix to infect history) and glaringly obvious (Hugh Grant as tyranny with the face of authority), and of all people Tom Hanks stumbles through some of the clumsiest caricatures ever foisted upon a star-studded production, but it's clever enough to keep you dancing through the changes. And at its best, "Cloud Atlas" is sprawling, inventive, ambitious, naïve, and thrilling. The momentum never lets up and sometimes it alone is all that keeps you moving through the weave of stories, but it can be enough. The images are dazzling and the transitions witty, sometime turning on a line, sometimes an image, sometimes it's not clear at all what the trigger is until later. But obvious or not, it’s all connected. Check out MSN's exclusive "Cloud Atlas" infographic for more on the different stories, characters, and time periods, and the connections between them.
MSN film critic Glenn Kenny isn't as taken with the film as I was. Though he calls it "the most sprawlingly ambitious ostensibly mainstream motion picture I've seen in years," he admits that "the filmmaking itself, while incredibly advanced on a technological level, is kind of mind-numbingly literal." Filling in the leads and key supporting roles across the stories are Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, and James D'Arcy.
Blu-ray and DVD, with the featurette "A Film Like No Other," an overview that plays more like a promotional featurette than a behind-the-scenes piece. The Blu-ray features six additional featurettes, plus a bonus DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for download and instant streaming. Also On Demand
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week
"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. At once literal and evasive, this is a film that wears its heart on its beautifully stitched sleeve and its meaning in its design and yet finds so many facets in which to mirror its ideas throughout its incarnations. It failed to connect with audiences on its initial release, but gets a second chance on home video, where its 170-minute length may not be such an issue. Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand. 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. Blu-ray and DVD, also at Redbox.
"Frankie Go Boom" (Universal), a comedy about sibling rivalry and practical joking gone awry starring Charlie Hunnam and Chris O'Dowd "possesses a surprisingly sweet heart," recommends MSN film critic Kat Murphy. Blu-ray and DVD
Plus: the latest reboot of the landmark horror film titled simply "Texas Chainsaw" (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, On Demand and at Redbox) and the historical epic "Back to 1942" (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand) from China.
Most releases are also available as digital download and VOD via iTunes, Amazon, and other web retailers and video services.
TV on Disc:
The central conflict of "Dexter: The Seventh Season" (Paramount), Showtime's blackly-comic series about TV's favorite serial-killer hero, isn't with another killer. This season Dexter's (Michael C. Hall) adoptive sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), who happens to be a police detective, discovers his secret and has to come to terms with the fact that her brother is the killer she's been hunting all these seasons. Family secrets can be so divisive. Blu-ray and DVD. Videodrone's review is here.
"The Bletchley Circle" (PBS) is a self-contained British mystery mini-series set in 1950s London, but it could easily launch a continuing series based on the strength of its characters, a quartet of women who were code breakers during World War II, and its setting. Blu-ray and DVD. Reviewed on Videodrone here.
"Liz and Dick" (eOne, DVD) is the Lifetime original movie starring Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor and Grant Bowler as Richard Burton and "Dance Academy: Season One" (Flatiron, DVD) is the Australian teen drama about first-year students at a ballet school in Sydney that debuted stateside on TeenNick.
Cool and Classic:
Two pair of smart adult westerns from director Delmer Daves get the Criterion treatment: the original "3:10 to Yuma" (Criterion) with Glenn Ford as a cunning outlaw and Van Heflin as the farmer who takes him to prison, and "Jubal" (Criterion), a reworking of "Othello" on a frontier ranch with Ford, Ernest Borgnine, and Rod Steiger. Both on Blu-ray and DVD with minimal supplements. Reviewed on Videodrone here.
"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," and two director by Jacques Feyder, "Gribiche" and 'The New Gentlemen." Videodrone's review is here.
"The Henry Fonda Film Collection" (Fox) collects ten features from 1939 to 1958, including "Drums Along the Mohawk" (1939), "The Grapes of Wrath" (1941), and "My Darling Clementine" (1946). DVD
More Hal Hartley comes back to disc, including his feature debut "The Unbelievable Truth" (Olive, Blu-ray and DVD) and the double feature "The Book of Life / The Girl from Monday" (Olive, DVD). Reviewed on Videodrone here.
John Stahl's noir-tinged Technicolor melodrama "Leave Her to Heaven" (Twilight Time) debuts on Blu-ray.
The MOD Movies round-up this week looks at a selection of films by the great directors debuting on disc through manufacture-on-demand.
New on Netflix Instant:
Horror films take top honors on Netflix new releases, from "House at the End of the Street" (2012) with newly-anointed Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence to the Norwegian Nazi zombie film "Dead Snow" (2009) to Ben Wheatley's "Kill List" (2011), a hitman thriller that swerves into a jangly horror film.
For fans of extreme cinema, here are a couple that will shake up even the hardiest souls: Lars von Trier's "Antichrist" (2009) with Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg and Gaspar Noe's violent "Irreversible" (2002). Much lighter is the action comedy "Hit & Run" (2012) with Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell and the Bollywood musical "Lagaan" (2001).
Plenty of classics have also recently arrived, including the 1941 swashbuckler "The Corsican Brothers" (1941) and a number of film noirs and dramas with darker edges, like "Raw Deal" (1948), "99 River Street" (1953), and "The Gun Runners" (1958).
New On Demand:
Available from Redbox this week:
"A Glimpse Inside the Mind Of Charles Swan III" (Lionsgate, DVD), a comedy starring Charlie Sheen as a hedonistic graphic designer in the seventies, and the "Texas Chainsaw" (Lionsgate, Blu-ray and DVD) topline the new arrivals in the kiosks this week.
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