Cy Endfield's 1965 survival thriller is a survivalist melodrama
"Sands of the Kalahari" (Olive), the 1965 survival thriller from director Cy Endfield, strands Stuart Whitman, Stanley Baker and Susannah York (among others) in the remote African desert, victims of a plane crash (brought down by a swarm of locusts) stuck with dwindling resources and a tribe of baboons (featured prominently on the DVD cover). This came out the same year as "The Flight of the Phoenix," another plane crash in the desert drama, and doesn't stand up to comparison, even though it goes a different direction with a similar premise.
Whitman, a businessman and big game hunter with an alpha male complex, quickly appoints himself leader and makes survival top priority, his survival in particular, first declaring war on the baboons and then on the weakest members of his own party, wielding his power and his gun with an arrogant swagger and taking possession of sexy divorcee York like she was his due. Harry Andrews is excellent as an elderly German gentleman who sees a little of his own Nazi past in Whitman's transformation and Theodore Bikel, Nigel Davenport and Barry Lowe co-star. Cy Endfield explored similar themes in "Zulu" a year before but this comes off as pulp melodrama of the machismo variety. No supplements.
Toni Collete goes out in a blaze of alternate personalities
"United States of Tara: The Complete Third Season" (Paramount) also turns out to be the final season of the Showtime original series starring Toni Collette as a wife and mother and multiple personalities. The show itself never quite found its footing but it's finally heading in the right direction this season, as Tara goes to college, Tara's sister Charmaine (Rosemarie DeWitt) becomes a mother and her son Marshall (Kier Gilchrist) hits a crisis that leaves him flailing for any kind of support and finding none. Mom has been has been taken over by a psychopath of a new personality who takes pleasure in terrorizing everyone, even the other alters within Tara.
"I have it under control," is the mantra of both Tara and husband Max (the underappreciated John Corbett) as they try to hold it together, and of course nothing is under control. It's a season mired in denial, which borders on criminal neglect when Tara's newest guest host tries to murder her new doctor (season guest star Eddie Izzard as Tara's psychology professor, a man skeptical of the reality of dissociative identity disorder). Which means that this screwy comedy gets very dark indeed before the season ends and some very interesting family drama gets dredged up in the process. In particular, after being the rock holding everything down as the rest of the family flies out of orbit, the show lets Max unravel. But just for a moment.
Given that the season was completely in the can before Showtime decided to cancel the show, it's a pleasant surprise that the season finale ends with a satisfying sense of closure. It doesn't solve the problems but it affirms that this is indeed a family ready to face its problems head on.
12 episodes on two discs in a box set to two thinpak cases. Fans of the show will be disappointed, however, that it features no supplements, not even a simple series retrospective.
Plus an animated "Tulip" and a "Everybody Loves Raymond" goes to Russia
"Rio" (Fox), from the creators of "Ice Age," takes us to the tropical color of Brazil for the story of a domesticated macaw rediscovering his wild roots in the chaos of Carnivale. The animated family adventure is filled with color and music, which helps distract from the familiarity of the journey. Videodrone's review is here. Indie of the week is "Stake Land" (Dark Skies/MPI), an unconventional take on the vampire film reimagined as a survival drama by way of a zombie thriller. Videodrone's review is here.
"Soul Surfer" (Sony) tells the true story of pro surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm (and almost lost her life) in a shark attack, and then returned to the waves and overcame the odds to became a champion. AnnaSophia Robb plays Bethany here, who finds support in her family and inspiration from God to return to the water and the sport she loves. "A lovely and sympathetic actress, Robb can't overcome the kind of righteous self-absorption that arises from simplistic piety -- and tone-deaf screenwriting," complains MSN critic Kat Murphy, who is appalled at the way the film turns a promising story into "a simplistic mishmash of youth fellowship homily and Hawaii tourism ad." The DVD and Blu-ray feature the 2007 documentary "Heart of a Soul Surfer" about the real Bethany Hamilton and her return to the sport, a new interview with Hamilton, three brief behind-the-scenes featurettes and a handful of deleted scenes.
"The Music Never Stopped" (Lionsgate), based on the book by Oliver Sacks, is also a true story. J.K. Simmons plays a father who, after a twenty-year estrangement from his son (Lou Taylor Pucci), reaches out to him when the young man is diagnosed with a brain tumor that affects his memories. It takes sixties rock and roll (cue soundtrack filled with Bob Dylan, The Beatles and The Stones) to bridge the gap. Julia Ormond co-stars and Jim Kohlberg directs this "a drably directed yet terrifically affecting drama about family bonds, classic rock, and the human brain," as Boston Globe critic Ty Burr describes it. "It's sentimental, yet so honest and eccentric that it rises above schmaltz." Features commentary by director Jim Kohlberg, interviews with author Olive Sacks and the cast and deleted scenes.
"My Dog Tulip" (New Yorker) turns J.R. Ackerly's memoir of a man and his dog in fifties-era London into an animated film that defies all expectations of cute animal movies. This isn't about the darnedest things that pets do, it's about the emotional life that grows between an adult and his beloved pet. Animated with a hand-drawn quality that recalls mid-century newspaper cartoons, it has a distinctly old-world attitude of pets in the urban world (the idea of cleaning up after an animal doing its business in the street is beyond consideration) and a respect for an animal's sexual life that seems at once strange and sophisticated. Which, if you haven’t guessed from that description, makes it a film for adult sensibilities and experiences. The disc, the first from the erstwhile New Yorker Films since 2009 (when its parent company filed for bankruptcy and the library became a hostage to creditors), comes in a smart paperboard digipak in a slipsleeve and includes a making-of featurette among its supplements.
The French drama "Outside the Law" (Palisades), a 2010 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film directed by Rachid Bouchareb, looks at the war in Algeria from the perspective of three Algerian brothers fighting for their independence from French rule. It is "at the very least a superior action film, in which the action sequences are plausible and grounded in reality," writes Roger Ebert. "What it isn't, at the end of the day, is a film about the larger picture. It's about these characters and their stories. Well, most films are." Supplements include a featurette, cast and director interviews and deleted scenes.
"Exporting Raymond" (Sony) is documentary as culture-clash comedy. Producer Phil Rosenthal travels to Russia to help develop a Russian version his hugely successful sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond." "In sitcom savant Phil Rosenthal's world, truth is at least as strange as fiction and usually it's funnier, which works to his advantage in the very entertaining cultural exchange, " writes Los Angeles Times film critic Betsy Sharkey. "Con Artist" (New Yorker), a profile of art provocateur and fame-junkie Mark Kostabi, offers a different kind of docu-comedy in its exploration of art, authorship and celebrity. Features commentary by director Michael Sladek, deleted scenes and featurettes.
And the rest:
"The Perfect Game" (Image) is a dramatization of the true story of an impoverished Little League baseball team from Mexico that swung their way to the 1957 Little League World Series. "Dear Lemon Lima" (Phase 4) is a high school romantic comedy costarring recent Oscar winner Melissa Leo. From Chad comes "A Screaming Man" (Film Movement).
Rufus Sewell is the Italian police detective in the new BBC mystery series
Aurelio Zen is the creation of British-born author Michael Dibdin, who lived in Italy for years and drew on his experience to create a series of mysteries about an honest police detective in a culture of political corruption and official incompetence. The novels form the inspiration for "Zen: Vendetta / Cabal / Ratking" (BBC), the latest BBC export, a series of three mysteries set and shot in Rome but produced with the unmistakable sensibility of British TV mystery.
Whether that's a recommendation or a warning depends on your affection for the British detective show formula. I'm encouraged to call it both the strength and weakness of the series. I've read a couple of Dibdin's "Zen" novels and am aware that the series rewrites the characters and plots freely, turning the humorless Zen into a witty, stylish character played by Rufus Sewell with a decidedly British cheekiness, while keeping the portrait of the Italian legal system as some feudal holdover where patronage and power define every case. But what really creates the cultural whiplash is the British translation of the regional conflicts and social strata that forms the basis of so much off the provincial conflict. While it surely works fine for British audiences, the substitution regional British accents and street slang still yanks me out of the Roman reverie and back across the channel. Which, I confess, is my problem, not the show's, as I rarely have that problem in American productions set in foreign lands.
That may disappoint fans of the novels but it makes for a stylish and sexy series. Sewell, who looks fabulous in Italian suits, is perfectly wry and understated as the career cop who can't help but pursue justice even when he's warned off politically volatile suspects and effortlessly seductive when he makes his move on the new secretary (Caterina Murino), who is subject of the office betting pool. Zen is, of course, too much of a gentleman to collect. At least not until doing so isn't going to hurt either one of them.
The defining element of the series (apart from the sizzle of this fabulously sexy couple; has there been a British detective this charismatic, photogenic and well adjusted in recent history?) is the way Zen keeps his balance on the political tightrope as competing powers try to sway his investigations. Savvy, smart and clear-eyed when it comes to the land mines of each case, he's still quite lucky when it comes to emerging triumphant without sacrificing his integrity. It’s all a matter of perception, and he manages to make it look like he's just another cop playing ball with the powers that be as long as he can make sure justice is served in the process. The novels were never this neat, to be sure, but neither were they ever this much fun.
The two-disc set, with three feature-length mysteries, arrives on DVD and Blu-ray mere days after concluding on "Masterpiece Mystery," and it includes the half-hour featurette "Zen: An Italian Adventure," which directly addresses the difficulties in adapting and the choices that I address above. It also explores the settings and the fashions of the show, which are equally defining of the shows sensibility.
The focus is on humanity in the best horror film of 2011 to date
The similarity in the title of the indie vampire drama "Stake Land" (Dark Skies/MPI) and the 2009 comic zombie road movie horror "Zombieland" is coincidental but fitting, as much for the differences in the films as for the similarities. There's a plague turning humans into undead creatures out for blood, an orphaned boy (Connor Paolo as Martin) learning to survive, a father figure (Nick Damici) with an unspoken past (he's simply known as Mister to one and all) and rumors of a safe place far away. And the vamps here are a lot more like zombies (by way of feral carnivores) than the social creatures we associate with vampire cabals.
But the similarities end there. This is no gallows comedy, it's a survival drama that has more in common with "The Road" or George Romero's late "Dead" films, but without the soul-crushing bleakness of the former or the horror as spectacle of the latter. The cabal here is a fringe Christian sect turned authoritarian cult that thinks the bloodsuckers were sent by God to cleanse humanity and they figure anyone who doesn't tow their line needs a fatal cleansing. Quite frankly, they are scarier than the vamps.
The symbolism isn't all that subtle and the backwoods fanatics tend toward hysterical stereotype—neo-Nazi nightmare by way of survivalist nutcase—but director Jim Mickle and co-screenwriter Nick Damici keep the film focused on the people and the relationships. There's a scruffy immediacy to the direction—low budget production, practical locations and shooting on the fly—but also a grace to the imagery and a commitment to the performances. They don't break loose and confess all, but the sense of comfort they find in one another warms the film.
An animated comedy of a domesticated macaw in the wilds of Rio de Janeiro's carnivale
"Rio" (Fox) is a classic fish-out-of-water tale for the birds. In this case, it's a tropical macaw (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) raised in the domesticity of a Minnesota home who ends up chained to a wild female macaw (Anne Hathaway) and on the run from poachers in Rio de Janeiro. The operative word being "run," as our nerdy hero Blu hasn't learned to fly.
Produced by Blue Sky Studios and directed by Carlos Saldanha (who made the "Ice Age" pictures together), were not exactly talking Pixar stature here. There's lots of color, some gorgeous animation, a running beat of lively (if not always memorable) music and the energy of lovely tropical birds in flight through the dazzling animated recreation of Rio de Janeiro's Carnivale. The rest is formula whipped up with all the eye candy that animation can buy: a nasty cockatoo (Jermaine Clement) who sings a song in praise of his villainy, a flock of eccentric characters who join our heroes and a pair of bird-loving humans who manage to find a little romance of their own on their journey to find the missing birds. They make for fine company for 90-minute feature as long as you don't demand much in the way of story or surprises.
"It's an intermittently charming (albeit, of course, almost entirely predictable) tale with some (and I do mean some) engaging voice work and many nifty if not staggeringly ingenious bits of action business," admits MSN critic Glenn Kenny. "But the kids will be taken with it, surely…. the story, while predictable, just bops along, and the whole thing really IS a pretty nice bit of eye candy."
The DVD comes with the usual array of family-friendly featurettes and kid-focused interactive supplements. The 24-minute "Saving the Species: One Voice at a Time" is the most informative of the behind-the-scenes pieces and it's still a pretty breezy tour through the voice actors (with footage from the recording sessions) and lead animators describing their approach to creating the characters. The music is explored in the 13-minute "Boom-Boom Tish Tish: The Sounds of Rio" and you can get a whirlwind tour through Carnivale in the 8-minute "The Real Rio," which looks more like a tourist commercial than a documentary. And there is a single deleted scene of Blu discovering fresh fruit, presented via animated storyboards and a finished soundtrack.
The rest is music videos and interactive goofs, like "Explore the World of Rio" (with video clips, stills and essays) and "Carnival Dance O Rama" (learn to dance from the animated characters), plus the film's "Angry Birds" promos.
The Blu-ray also offers "Postcards from Rio" and bonus BDLive-accessible behind-the-scenes footage, plus a bonus DVD and digital copy.
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week.
"Rio" (Fox), from the creators of "Ice Age," takes us to the tropical color of Brazil for the story of a domesticated macaw rediscovering his wild roots in the chaos of Carnivale. The animated family adventure is filled with color and music, which helps distract from the familiarity of the journey. Videodrone's review is here.
"Soul Surfer" (Sony) tells the true story of pro surfer Bethany Hamilton, who overcame the odds and became a champion after losing her arm in a shark attack. Unfortunately, MSN critic Kat Murphy tells us that the film turns a promising story into "a simplistic mishmash of youth fellowship homily and Hawaii tourism ad." "The Music Never Stopped" (Lionsgate), starring J.K. Simmons and Lou Taylor Pucci, is also based on a true story, this one about a father who connects with his estranged son after the young man is diagnosed with a brain tumor that affects his memories. "It's sentimental, yet so honest and eccentric that it rises above schmaltz," writes Boston Globe critic Ty Burr.
Indie of the week is "Stake Land" (Dark Skies/MPI), an unconventional take on the vampire film reimagined as a survival drama by way of a zombie thriller. Videodrone's review is here. Also new: the animated film "My Dog Tulip" (New Yorker) from Britain, the French drama "Outside the Law" (Palisades) about three brothers fighting for Algerian independence and the documentary "Exporting Raymond" (Sony).
TV on DVD:
Arriving on DVD and Blu-ray mere days after concluding on "Masterpiece Mystery," "Zen: Vendetta / Cabal / Ratking" (BBC) collects three feature-length adaptations of Michael Dibdin's novels about an honest police detective (Rufus Sewell) in Rome trying to solve murders in the mire of political corruption and official incompetence. Videodrone's review is here.
Danny McBride is back as the biggest jerk (and the most unjustified ego) in professional baseball in the rude HBO comedy series "Eastbound & Down: The Complete Second Season" (HBO).
"United States of Tara: The Complete Third Season" (Paramount), starring Toni Collette as a wife and mother with multiple personalities (reviewed here), and "Everwood: The Complete Fourth Season" (Warner), the family drama with Treat Williams Gregory Smith, mark the end of each of the respective shows. And Tom Selleck returns in the TV movie "Jesse Stone: Innocents Lost" (Sony).
Cool, Classic and Cult:
Stuart Whitman, Stanley Baker and Susannah York are just some of the passengers stranded in the remote African desert after a plane crash in "Sands of the Kalahari" (Olive), the 1965 survival thriller from director Cy Enfield. Videodrone's review is here.
"MST3K vs. Gamera: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XXI" (Shout! Factory) lets Joel Robinson and his faithful robot sidekicks Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot loose on five original Gamera monster movies from the 1960s in a deluxe edition in a tin box. "Streetwalkin'" (Shout! Factory) is an eighties street drama notable for the early appearance of Oscar winner Melissa Leo as a teenage hooker and indie horror film "YellowBrickRoad" (Vivendi) arrives fresh off the film festival circuit.
Sean Connery is the Sherlock Holmes of the 14th century in "The Name of the Rose" (Warner), Jean-Jacques Annaud’s intelligent adaptation of Umberto Eco's best-selling novel. Videodrone's review is here.
With a new incarnation of Robert E. Howard's barbarian hero arriving in theaters this summer, the eighties features "Conan the Barbarian" (Universal) and "Conan the Destroyer" (Universal), the films that turned bodybuilding champion Arnold Schwarzenegger's into an action hero, arrive hit Blu-ray. Videodrone gets pumped up about them here.
And on that same theme, Robert Rodriguez's whimsical junior secret agent films "Spy Kids" (Lionsgate), "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams" (Lionsgate) and "Spy Kids 3: Game Over" (Lionsgate) debut on Blu-ray in advance of the fourth "Spy Kids" chapter. Videodrone is on the case here.
John Cusack is an imaginative high school kid who figures he'd be "Better Off Dead" (Paramount) in Savage Steve Holland's wacky comedy, and "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Bueller... Bueller... Edition" (Paramount) gets rereleased for the film's 25th anniversary.
The complete calendar of releases this week is after the jump:
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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
"Source Code" – Once More, With Feeling
"Dylan Dog" – A Detective for Very Special Cases
The New Release Rack: "Trust" in "Life During Wartime"
TV on DVD:
"Supernatural: The Anime Series" – Sam and Dean Get Animated
TV on DVD Channel Guide: "Burn Notice": The Prequel and an "Omnibus" anthology
The Cool and the Collectible:
"Léon Morin, Priest" – Desire and Faith in the Shadows of Nazi Occupied France
Cult Watch: "Jackboots on Whitehall"
"Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers": John Belushi in HD
Blu-ray Round-up: Kurosawa's "High and Low," the complete "Stargate Atlantis"
Coming up next week:
"Soul Surfer" (Sony)
"The Music Never Stopped" (Lionsgate)
"Stake Land" (Dark Skies)
"A Screaming Man" (Film Movement)
"Exporting Raymond" (Sony)
"Sands of the Kalahari" (Olive)
"Better Off Dead" (Paramount)
"MST3K vs. Gamera: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XXI" (Shout! Factory)
"United States of Tara: The Complete Third Season" (Paramount)
"Eastbound & Down: The Complete Second Season" (HBO)
"Everwood: The Complete Fourth Season" (Warner)
"Conan the Barbarian" (Blu-ray) (Universal)
"Spy Kids" (Blu-ray) (Lionsgate)
"Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams" (Blu-ray) (Lionsgate)
"Spy Kids 3: Game Over" (Blu-ray) (Lionsgate)
|Tags:||Week in review|