The new 'Apes" breathes life into the old franchise
Part prequel, part reboot and part reimagined origin story, "The Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (Fox) is not simply a revival of a beloved seventies series that took a serious dive into high kitsch. It's a terrific character piece, a gripping prison break thriller with a wicked high-concept twist and the smartest action movie of 2011.
Andy Serkis will probably once again be ignored come Academy Award time, but his incarnation of Caesar, an ape with boosted intelligence (thanks to an experimental drug) raised as a member of the scientist's family, is one of the top performances of the year. The fur and the primate musculature is all computer animation but the body language and facial expressions and personality is all Serkis, the man in the motion capture suit, and he gives us an evolution of character worthy of Spartacus or Moses: He leads his people to freedom, and he does so by watching, learning, understanding and taking command as a compassionate leader.
Simply put, Caesar is more dense and complex than any of his human co-stars (including James Franco as the revolutionary -- or is that evolutionary? -- scientist, Freida Pinto and John Lithgow) and grounds the high-concept idea in a character you can't help but root for.
For such a clever and satisfying piece of science fiction writing (don't blame apes for the rise, it's all due to human hubris and recklessness) it has its logical gaps (how can a high-tech lab of animal testing and trials miss a pregnant test subject or let a human exposed to an experimental drug walk out of the facility with dangerous symptoms without even a check-up?), but they get forgotten in the thrill of the story.
Gary Oldman explains how to voice a peacock of a villain
Po, Master Shifu and the Furious Five are back in the "Kung Fu Panda 2" (Dreamworks) to defeat a terrible new villain: a scheming peacock voiced by Gary Oldman. MSN has an exclusive clip from the Blu-ray featuring Oldman discussing the art of giving voice to an evil animated peacock.The animated feature, which sends Po on an odyssey to discover his true parentage, "packs lots of firepower," according to MSN film critic Kat Murphy, but "Despite improvements and reinforcements, "Kung Fu Panda 2" looks a little too much like training wheels for tots who will grow up to ride franchise machines like "Pirates of the Caribbean 4."
" There's magic here -- and in much of the gorgeously realized imagery of the film proper -- that deserves better than the movie's largely uncomplicated cartoon characters and adventures."
The DVD features commentary by director Jennifer Yuh Nelson and members of her crew, deleted scenes, cast interviews and an episode of the animated TV series "Kung Fuy Panda: Legends of Awesomeness." The "Awesome Double DVD Pack" features the new animated short "Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters" plus bonus featurettes and DVD-ROM activities.
The Blu-ray also includes the exclusive featurettes "Animation Inspiration" and "The Animators' Corner" and a pop-up trivia track
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week
Part prequel, part reboot and part reimagined origin story, "The Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (Fox) " is not simply a revival of a beloved seventies series that took a serious dive into high kitsch. It's a terrific character piece, a gripping prison break thriller with a wicked high-concept twist and the smartest action movie of 2011. Andy Serkis delivers a motion capture performance more dense and complex than any of his human co-stars and grounds the high-concept idea in a character you can't help but root for. On DVD, Blu-ray and digital download. Videodrone's review is here.
"Kung Fu Panda 2" (Dreamworks) reunites Po and the Furious Five to defeat a terrible new villain: a scheming peacock voiced by Gary Oldman. It "packs lots of firepower," according to MSN film critic Kat Murphy, but it "deserves better than the movie's largely uncomplicated cartoon characters and adventures." On DVD and Blu-ray. See an exclusive clip on Videodrone here.
"Fright Night" (Dreamworks) is a remake of the colorful 1985 film, by now something of a minor cult favorite, with Anton Yelchin as the kid who suspects his darkly charming neighbor (Colin Farrell) is a vampire. MSN critic Glenn Kenny was "pretty pleasantly surprised by this version." On DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D, plus digital download and OnDemand.
Tsui Hark directs the "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" (Indomnia), a dazzling (if at times silly) Hong Kong action spectacular of martial arts magic and CGI mayhem. On DVD and Blu-ray. "Circumstance" (Lionsgate) is a coming-of-age drama set in Iran, where two vivacious teenage girls must keep their growing attraction a secret.
Also new this week: "Tanner Hall" (Anchor Bay) with Rooney Mara, the indie drama "Daddy Longlegs" (Kimstim/Zeitgeist) from Josh and Benny Safdie and the documentary "The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975" (Sundance Selects/IFC).
TV on DVD:
"Switched At Birth: Volume 1" (ABC) is the latest ABC Family Channel teenage melodrama with a twist, this one pretty much explained in the title: a well-to-do family and a single mom discover that the daughters they raised are not their biological progeny. The real drama begins when they kind of move in together: a collision of class, culture and child-rearing philosophies. That one of the teenage girls is deaf simply adds another culture into the mix. I don't why, but I have a fondness for these family-friendly soaps and this is one of the better ones. Videodrone's review is here.
"Spin City: Season Six" (Shout! Factory) features all 26 episodes of the final season of the sitcom that Michael J. Fox launched. Charlie Sheen took the lead for the final seasons but Fox is back as a guest star for the first three episodes. "Family Guy: Volume 9" (Fox) features 14 episodes from seasons 8 and 9.
Also arriving this week: the animated HBO series "The Life and Times of Tim: The Complete Second Season" (HBO), the long-running "Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season, Volume 2" (Paramount) and the PBS documentary "Steve Jobs: One Last Thing" (PBS).
Flip through the TV on DVD Channel Guide here
Cool, Classic and Cult:
Not quite so classic but also remastered for DVD and Blu-ray is the 1998 gore horror "Intruder: Director's Cut" (Synapse), co-starring Bruce Campbell Sam Raimi and packed with supplements. "Stars and Stripes Forever" (Fox), the glossy 1952 20th Century Fox biopic starring Clifton Webb as "The March King" John Philip Sousa, debuts on both DVD and Blu-ray in a single combo pack.
For an alternative that definitely earns the title "alternative" there is "Moses and Aaron" (New Yorker), a screen adaptation of the Arnold Schoenberg opera by Danielle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub.
"Meet Me in St. Louis" (Warner), Vincent Minelli’s first Technicolor film and the ultimate in Hollywood Americana, is a film for all seasons and holidays, including one of the most bittersweet Christmas scenes of all time: little Margaret O’Brien commits symbolic parricide on an innocent snowman family after Judy Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” It arrives in a Blu-ray Booklet special edition with a bonus four-song CD sampler. Videodrone's review is here.
Before he directed "Captain America," Joe Johnson directed the retro-superhero adventure "The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition" (Disney), starring Bill Campbell as the test pilot with an experimental rocket pack. And as the remake bows on home video this week, the original "Fright Night" (Twilight Time) debuts Blu-ray.
"The Expendables: Extended Director's Cut" (Lionsgate) adds ten minutes to Sylvester Stallone's testosterone-fueled mercenary adventure.
The complete calendar of releases this week is after the jump:
Films by Alan Rudolph, Richard Lester, Ken Russell, Lindsay Anderson and more
In the course of the once mighty MGM studio's decline and multiple sales, the studio's magnificent library ended up with Ted Turner and then at Warner Bros.. In the meantime, the downsized MGM picked up smaller film libraries from the likes of Monogram/Allied, Cannon, Orion and United Artists, from which these October / November releases were drawn. Reviews to come on some of these.
"Hickey and Boggs" (1972) reunites "I Spy" partners Bill Cosby and Robert Culp as down-at-heels Los Angeles private eyes in the middle of a criminal vendetta. Culp makes his directorial debut from a lean script by Walter Hill, a modern hard-boiled buddy picture, but hands the lead to Cosby on screen.
"Welcome to L.A." (1976) is not Alan Rudolph's first feature, but it's the first in which he found his distinctive voice and style, an Altman-esque character piece (produced by Robert Altman himself, Rudolph's mentor) about a group of Angelinos whose paths criss-cross as they make their way in show business. Keith Carradine, Sally Kellerman, Geraldine Chaplin, Harvey Keitel, Lauren Hutton and Sissy Spacek star.
Richard Lester's "The Bed Sitting Room" (1969) is a post-apocalyptic satire of life in Britain after the bomb, where Rita Tushingham plays a 17-month pregnant girl who watches everyone around her mutate into (among other things) household furniture. Ralph Richardson, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Spike Milligan co-star.
Though it was released a few months ago, the debut of "The Music Lovers" (1971) offers an opportunity to remember the recently deceased director Ken Russell with one of his signature artist bio-pics, this flamboyant film starring Richard Chamberlain as Peter Tchaikovsky.
Between his debut feature "This Sporting Life" and his anthem of college rebellion "If…," Lindsay Anderson directed the medium-length "The White Bus" (aka "Red, White and Zero") (1967), a surreal social drama written by the acclaimed playwright Shelagh Delaney, who passed away just last month.
And for cult fans, here's a pair of sixties motorcycle movies -- "The Glory Stompers" (1967) with Dennis Hopper and Jody McCrea and "Devil’s Angel" (1967) with John Cassavetes -- and the Jules Verne adaptation "Master of the World" (1961), scripted by the great Richard Matheson and starring Vincent Price and Charles Bronson, a kind of early steampunk piece of Victorian science fiction in the sixties drive-in movie vernacular.
Fashion Model (1945)
Behind the Mask (1946)
The Bandits of Corsica (1953)
Fort Yuma (1955)
The Big Caper (1957)
The Mugger (1958)
Gunfighters of Abilene (1960)
Three Came To Kill (1960)
Boy Who Caught A Crook (1961)
Doctor Blood’s Coffin (1961)
Gun Street (1962)
Incident In An Alley (1962)
Don’t Worry, We’ll Think of a Title (1966)
Kill A Dragon (1967)
Hostile Witness (1968)
The 1,000 Plane Raid (1969)
The First Time (1969)
Hannibal Brooks (1969)
Halls of Anger (1970)
Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You (1970)
What Do You Say To A Naked Lady? (1970)
Golden Needles (1974)
Manchu Eagle Murder Caper Mystery (1975)
A Small Town in Texas (1976)
Uncle Joe Shannon (1978)
Enter The Ninja (1981)
Return of the Rebels (1981)
Ghost Warrior (1985)
Zone Troopers (1985)
Opposing Force (1986)
Detective School Dropouts (1986)
Where The River Runs Black (1986)
Deadly Intent (1988)
Getting It Right (1989)
MOD stands for "Manufacture on Demand" and represents a recent development in the DVD market, where slipping sales have slowed the release of classic, special interest and catalogue releases. These are DVD-R releases, no-frills discs from studio masters, ordered online and "burned" individually with every order. You can read an introduction to the MGM Limited Edition Collection on Videodrone here.
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
'The Help' – In Praise of Spunky Young White Women
TV on DVD:
'Big Love' Ends With Two Box Sets
TV on DVD Channel Guide: 'Underbelly' – A Real Life Australian Crime Saga, plus 'Portlandia' and more
The Cool and the Collectible:
Gift Guide Round-up: Family and Kids
Don Siegel's 'The Gun Runners'
MOD Movies Calendar: Recent Releases from the Warner Archive
Expert Witness: Ridley Scott on Blu-ray
Coming up next week:
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (Fox)
"Kung Fu Panda 2" (Dreamworks)
"Fright Night" (Dreamworks)
"Tanner Hall" (Anchor Bay)
"Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" (Indomnia)
"X: The Unheard Music" (MVD)
"Seven Chances" (Kino)
"Switched At Birth: Volume 1" (ABC)
"Family Guy: Volume 9" (Fox)
"The Life and Times of Tim: The Complete Second Season" (HBO)
"Meet Me in St. Louis" (Blu-ray) (Warner)
"The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition" (Blu-ray) (Disney)
"Branded to Kill" (Blu-ray) (Criterion)
"Tokyo Drifter" (Blu-ray) (Criterion)
"The Expendables: Extended Director's Cut" (Blu-ray) (Lionsgate)
|Tags:||Week in review|
Audie Murphy fills in for Bogie in the third screen version of Hemingway's 'To Have and Have Not'
"The Gun Runners" (MGM Limited Edition Collection)
Don Siegel's low-budget 1958 adventure is not exactly a remake of "To Have and Have Not" but it is the third screen adaptation of Ernest Hemingway novel. Audie Murphy takes the lead here as independent skipper Sam Martin, who rents his cabin cruiser to tourists looking to fish the waters of Key West but winds up ends up in debt to a gun runner (Eddie Albert), making illegal trips to Cuba under cover of night so Albert can make his deal with the Cuban revolutionaries.
It's a stock thriller premise brought to life with clever screenwriting (by Daniel Mainwaring and Paul Monash, and reportedly an uncredited contribution from Ben Hecht), deftly turned characters, a terrific supporting cast and delightfully sexy rapport and physical intimacy between Murphy and Patricia Owens, who plays his wife.
Gita Hall, a former Miss Stockholm, is terrific as a good time girl hired who provide Albert with cover and Everett Sloane is Murphy's rummy deckhand, a more pathetic figure than Walter Brennan's incarnation in "To Have and Have Not," which gives his heroism a greater impact., Jack Elam and John Qualen have small roles and Richard Jaeckel pops up as Albert's henchman. But it's Albert who steals the film as the smiling crook of a gun runner, ready to sacrifice anyone and everyone for a buck.
Siegel stages what little action there is in the cramped quarters of the cabin cruiser, making the most of his very limited resources. He even plays with Murphy's unlikely leading man status, tossing in comments about his "baby face" before letting the diminutive hero loose, not so much a tough guy as a tough, resilient independent taking care of his own.
The disc presents the film full frame (1.33:1), as it would show on TV, but by 1958 almost every feature was shot to be screened theatrically in at least 1.85:1 ratio. I zoomed the film to fill the edges of the screen, lopping off slivers of the top and bottom image, and the framing looked better: more accurate, more focused on the performers, cutting out the dead space off the safety zones on the top and bottom. No supplements.
MOD stands for "Manufacture on Demand" and represents a recent development in the DVD market, where slipping sales have slowed the release of classic, special interest and catalogue releases. These are DVD-R releases, no-frills discs from studio masters, ordered online and "burned" individually with every order. You can read a general introduction to the format and the model on my profile of the Warner Archive Collection on Parallax View here and on the MGM Limited Edition Collection on Videodrone here.
20 seasons on 104 discs – That's a megaset if I ever saw one
"Law & Order: The Complete Series" (Universal)
The powerhouse crime-drama was practically under the cultural radar for years before people realized it was not only one of the most popular shows on TV, it was one of the best. This was long before it spawned so many spin-offs that the brand was practically its own crime show network, when it was simply a show with a brilliant structure and a memorable "chong-chong!" punctuation sting in every transition.
The show launched in 1990 with a line-up that featured Chris Noth and George Dzundza investigating the crimes under the Captain, Dann Florek, and Michael Moriarty and Richard Brooks manning the prosecution for D.A. Steven Hill. By the time it was retired in 2010, there wasn't a single original cast member left. Fans have their favorites, and usually the venerable Jerry Orbach, who began his 12 season run as Det. Lenny Briscoe in the third season, leads the list. My favorite is the perennially underrated Noth as the brash, hot-headed Det. Mike Logan, right there from the first episode and, more than any other character in the series, evolving through his tour of duty. Jill Hennesy joined the prosecution side in the fourth year, Sam Waterston took lead chair in season five (and continued through the end of the show, ultimately taking elder statesman duties as the D.A. (after Dianne Wiest and Fred Dalton Thompson both served their terms).
Other notables who put in their time: Paul Sorvino, Benjamin Bratt, Jesse L. Martin, Dennis Farina (perhaps the only odd fit on the show; too much maverick personality), Jeremy Sisto and Anthony Anderson on the Law side, all under with command of seventeen season veteran S. Epatha Merkerson; and Carey Lowell, Angie Harmon, Elisabeth Röhm and Linus Roche (taking lead chair from Waterston upon his promotion) on the Order. And that doesn't begin to take into account the tremendous run of guest stars through the years.
While the shows have been dutifully pouring out by the season for years, less than half the series is currently available by the individual season. This box set is the first time all twenty seasons and 456 (!!!) episodes have been available. No surprise, this is set with heft: 104 DVDs packed into a 12" by 7 1/2" by 5 ½" box, weighing in at just under ten pounds and carrying a retail price tag of $699.99, though you'll be able to find it discounted for up to hundreds of dollars less (check Bing for deals here).
It's not just a challenge to pack a megaset like this efficiently, it's a necessity. This box doesn't squander space on high-concept packaging: each season is packed into its own case, each of them standard size with hinged trays, and the only bonus extra is an episode guide that reproduces the one-sentence descriptions of the original releases. My minor gripe is that it neglects to identify guest stars (which is how many people remember key episodes) and other creative participants of the individual episodes. Neither do the seasons list the incarnation of the cast, but that you can make it out on the cast cover photo.
Not a lot of supplements, which is fine. The modesty of presentation fits the temperament of the show, and really, with 456 episodes, how much extra do you need? But it does include the three cross-over "Homicide" episodes, plus deleted scenes from throughout the show's run. What it's missing is the great "Law & Order" movie "Exiled," which brought Chris Noth back as Mike Logan, and the "Law & Order" crossover episodes of "Trial by Jury" and "Special Victims Unit." And while the discs present widescreen editions of the series from the fifth season onwards, it simply re-uses the earlier full screen (1.33:1) release of "Season 14" rather than remastering it in widescreen. Those minor quibbles aside, it's quite a package.
Plus a 'Mission: Impossible Trilogy' box set and more
Hitchcock patented the romantic thriller with "The Lady Vanishes" (Criterion), a bright, breezy confection that takes his quirky cast (and the audience along with them) from an idyllic picture postcard of fantasy Europe to a nightmarish journey to the heart of the dark days of World War II that lay just ahead.
Adorable Margaret Lockwood meets cute with ethnomusicologist Michael Redgrave and it's loathing at first brush, but those kinds of sparks ignite the fires of romance, especially once they board the same train and team up to search for Dame May Whitty, a charming old spinster who no one seems to remember after she disappears, seemingly into thin air. The tight, witty script by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder is brought to life by a seasoned cast of character performers, highlighted by droll turns by Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford as twitty cricket fans Charters and Caldicott desperately searching for the latest scores.
The Blu-ray debut features a newly remastered HD edition of the film, plus commentary on the film by Bruce Eder and the bonus 1941 film "Crook's Tour," a silly little British espionage comedy with Wayne and Radford reprising the characters Charters and Caldicott as lead characters for the first time. Here, the world travelers are mistaken for spies in the Middle East and passed secret information by a Nazi saboteur. What follows is veddy British, with plenty of jokes made at the expense of Radford's "horse-faced" sister (Noel Hood) and more cricket references than any American should ever have to wade through. Also features the video essay "Mystery Train" by film scholar Leonard Leff, audio excerpts from François Truffaut's legendary 1962 interview with Hitchcock, a gallery of stills and art, and a booklet with essays by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and Hitchcock scholar Charles Barr.
"Mission: Impossible Extreme Blu-ray Trilogy" (Paramount) is a box set collecting the first three big budget, big screen incarnation of the cult espionage series of the 1960s, starring Tom Cruise as secret agent Ethan Hunt and a collection of dazzling action set pieces. "Mission: Impossible" (1996), directed by Brian DePalma, puts Hunt on the run when he's framed for the deaths of his espionage team. To clear his name, he puts together a team of rogue agents to infiltrate the heart of his own organization. Built on a plot of feints and deceits that gets harder to understand the more you push it, it is nonetheless a slick piece of action filmmaking, directed with devious style by DePalma, who knows how to stage a set piece. Jon Voight plays the role created by Peter Graves in the TV show and Emmanuelle Beart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Vanessa Redgrave co-star.
John Woo directs "Mission: Impossible II" (2000), which gives crack agent a new assignment (stopping a deadly biological weapon), a new villain (Dougray Scott), a new love interest (Thandie Newton), and lots of slow motion action with doves flapping through. Ving Rhames, Richard Roxburgh and Brendan Gleeson co-star. "Mission: Impossible III" (2006) takes on a vindictive international super-villain (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who takes his revenge on Hunt by kidnapping his fiancé (Michele Monaughan). Directed by TV creator J.J. Abrams, it plays like a an entire season of "Alias" condensed into one film where any motivation beyond revenge simply confuses the issue. The rest is just action movie spectacle, pyrotechnics, and devilishly clever missions full of split second timing and cool gear and feints that always work. Keri Russell (star of Abrams' earlier series "Felicity") makes a striking appearance as a fellow agent, Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maggie Q, and Billy Crudup fill out Hunt's team, and Simon Pegg and Laurence Fishburne co-star.
The discs all feature the supplements from the previous single-disc Blu-ray releases – commentary tracks, featurettes and such – except for "M:I-3," which includes just the first disc of the earlier two-disc edition and offers just the commentary track (the rest of the supplements were on the second disc). So if you have that earlier Blu-ray release, you won't want to let it go for this one.
"Tora! Tora! Tora!" (Fox), the epic 1970 American/Japanese co-production, set out to present the definitive story of the bombing of Pearl Harbor as seen from both sides of the battle. American director Richard Fleischer oversaw the complicated production and Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasuku directed the Japanese sequences (taking over from Akira Kurosawa, who quit the production over creative differences). Martin Balsam, Soh Yamamura, Jason Robards, Joseph Cotten, E.G. Marshall and James Whitmore star but the highlight of the film is the climactic 30-minute recreation of the attack, an impressive spectacle that earned the film an Oscar. Features the supplements of the earlier DVD special edition: commentary by director Richard Fleischer and Japanese film historian Stuart Galbraith IV, two historical documentaries, the featurette "AMC Backstory: Tora! Tora! Tora!," ten "Fox Movietone News" clips and galleries of stills and art. The Blu-ray comes on the Blu-ray book format with the disc in an inset sleeve in the back inside cover of the illustrated booklet.
"Now & Later" (Cinema Libre) is an erotic drama about a former banking executive on the run from the law who falls for an illegal immigrant who shelters the fugitive. Los Angeles Times critic Gary Goldstein describes it as "clumsily shot and scripted" and "a hollow concoction of sex, politics and endless chatter that's just a few camera angles short of hard-core porn." It came out on DVD earlier this year. The Blu-ray features two deleted scenes (including a bonus sex scene) and cast interviews.
"Arabia 3D" (Image) is a recent IMAX documentary narrated by Helen Mirren The Blu-ray edition includes both 3D and standard versions. (3D only works on compatible Blu-ray players and monitors.) Also includes a featurette.
Also debuting on Blu-ray: Ernst Lubitsch's "Design for Living" (Criterion), starring Fredric March, Gary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins as free-thinking Americans in Paris (reviewed here), "Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition" (Music Box), the Swedish mini-series version of the films, and Pier Paolo Pasolini's1969 "Medea" (eOne) with Maria Callas in her only big screen performance.