Plus more 'Madea,' Araki goes 'Kaboom,' Tilda Swinton in 'The Deep End,' and more
"Upstream Color" (2013), the latest headtrip from filmmaker Shane Carruth, gets an unequivocal recommendation from MSN film critic Glenn Kenny: "the second feature film by writer-director-performer Shane Carruth, is a tour-de-force of a science fiction/horror film, conceived and executed with rare sensitivity and intelligence. It's full of genuinely creepy and disturbing moments and trucks in some genuinely creepy and disturbing ideas and concepts. For most movies nowadays, these qualities would be more than enough to qualify as something special, and something especially ambitious as well. But "Upstream Color" has more, and that's a big part of what makes it glorious, but also a big part of what makes it challenging for what we'll refer to here as the "mainstream market.""
"Madea's Witness Protection" (2012) pairs Madea (Tyler Perry) up with Eugene Levy, a meek investment banker who takes refuge in Madea's house when he enter Witness Protection with his family. Los Angeles Times film critic Mark Olsen calls it "a spectacularly slapdash and wearingly half-hearted effort from the prolific writer-director-actor, lacking energy, structure or common sense."
"Kaboom" (2010) from Queer cinema icon Gregg Araki rolls sex, questions of sexuality, gorgeous college kids, teenage angst, witchcraft and quite possible the apocalypse into a trippy little picture. "It's by far the funniest and warmest movie Araki has ever made, with much less juvenile angst and much more command of his craft," writes Salon.com film critic Andrew O'Hehir, who describes it as: "A delirious and lighthearted pop spectacle with a dark undercurrent of apocalyptic horror…" Thomas Dekker, Juno Temple, Haley Bennett, Stella, Chris Zylka, Roxane Mesquida and James Duvall star.
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Plus disc debuts of 'At Long Last Love' and 'A Labor of Love,' a 'Richard Pryor' set, and more
"Enter the Dragon: 40th Anniversary" (Warner) is a newly remastered special edition of the film that elevated martial arts star Bruce Lee to the status of international icon. Videodrone's review is here.
In "Wild Strawberries" (Criterion), Ingmar Bergman takes that most venerable of modern genres, the road movie, and transforms it into the contemplative journey of an aging professor (played by legendary Swedish director Victor Sjôstrôm) into his unexamined past. It’s an often painful drama and Sjôstrôm gives a vulnerable, moving performance as the crotchety, morally imperious old man who slowly realizes the effect his inflexibility and hard demands has had on those around him, but it's also one of Bergman’s warmest, most understanding, and beautiful films. Ingrid Thulin is his passenger and daughter-in-law who nudges him along the craggy trail to self-awareness and Bibi Andersson is the love of his early life, revisited in musings and dreams, and the freewheeling modern hitchhiker he meets on the road.
Criterion originally released the film on DVD a decade ago is gorgeous transfer. The Blu-ray debut, mastered from a 2k digital transfer, is downright stunning, with amazing detail and texture, and it reminds us that, before Sven Nykvist shadowy work, Gunnar Fischer brought an Eden-like quality to the outdoors of Bergman's films.
New to the disc is an introduction by Bergman shot for Swedish television and behind-the-scenes footage from the set shot by Bergman, and carried over from the previous DVD release are thoughtful and illuminating commentary by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie and the 90 minute documentary "Ingmar Bergman on Life and Work" by Jörn Donner. The booklet features a new essay by film scholar Mark Le Fanu.
"At Long Last Love" (Fox) is the disc debut of Peter Bogdanovich's 1975 musical, which (despite a positive review from Roger Ebert) flopped so bad on release it became an industry joke and all but disappeared. Now the film, starring Burt Reynolds, Cybil Shepard, and Madeline Kahn and featuring the songs of Cole Porter, is getting a second look thanks to a version recut by veteran Fox editor James Blakely and approved by Bogdanovich (who never even knew of this edit until recently). Bogdanovich writes about the troubled release and the unusual history to this release in his blog on IndieWire: "I quickly began to realize that it was quite a different version than either the theatrical or the TV editions…. But it was sharper, better. In fact, it was the best version of the movie I had ever seen. And I loved it!" Blu-ray and DVD, with an isolated score track.
"The Manson Family" (Severin), James VanBebber’s retelling of the Manson family story is an acid movie flashback a la Oliver Stone. Constructed like an impressionistic documentary, with imagined footage of interviews that never took place and intimate scenes of the family in fun and crime that were never shot, it’s designed in the style of a gritty, gruesome seventies exploitation picture: a blunt instrument of a true crime drama but, for all the brutality, still more nuanced than most films about Manson and his followers. The Blu-ray debut features new commentary by director James VanBebber and a new interview with musician Phil Anselmo, plus (carried over from the DVD special edition) the documentaries "The Vanbebber Family" and "In The Belly of the Beast," deleted scenes, and an archival interview with Charles Manson.
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Plus the docudrama 'Killing Lincoln,' the debut seasons of 'Major Crimes' and 'Wedding Band,' and more
"The Newsroom: The Complete First Season" (HBO) is Aaron Sorkin's HBO original series set at a cable news channel that is remarkably idealistic and full of brilliant people who have sharp political instincts and poor impulse control. Videodrone's review is here.
"House of Cards: The Complete First Season" (Sony) became something of a game changer when it debuted on Netflix earlier this year. Produced by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey as a savagely Machiavellian politician, it was the first streaming video original series with the same commitment to production value and provocative writing as the more extravagant cable shows.
Based on a British mini-series from the nineties (and the novel by Michael Dobbs before it), it moves the political circus to the American tent and casts Spacey as a congressman who takes a slash and burn approach to stepping up the political ladder. Fincher also directs the first two episodes of the savage political satire, setting the tone and style of the show: handsome, elegant, and cinematic, like an Alan Pakula drama from the seventies with the sharp, cool look of Fincher's digital aesthetic.
Spacey revisits his honeyed southern accent from "In the Garden of Good and Evil" to play Francis Underwood, the heavyweight party animal who goes lone wolf when he's passed over for a promised appointment, and he smiles his way through a campaign of subterfuge, political sabotage, media manipulation, personal vengeance, and even murder. Robin Wright is equally good as the congressional wife who runs a charitable foundation with all the warmth and compassion of Lady Macbeth and Fincher and Spacey (who is also an executive producer) attract a superb line-up of actors: Kate Mara as the young political reporter who trades rises fast thanks to his tips, Corey Stoll as a fellow congressman with a weakness for… well, pretty much anything, and Michael Kelly as Spacey's top aide and loyal henchman. More at my original review of series on Videodrone here.
13 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD with, surprisingly, no supplemental material whatsoever.
"Killing Lincoln" (Fox), adapted from the non-fiction time co-written by Bill O'Reilly, continues the Lincoln revival on screens big and small. This docudrama, narrated by Tom Hanks and starring Billy Campbell as Lincoln, was originally produced for the National Geographic Channel Ridley and Tony Scott. "This thing ring-a-ding-dings with authenticity," celebrated Entertainment Weekly TV critic Ken Tucker, who describes it in his review as "a well-oiled machine of melodrama."
Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary by executive producer and screenwriter Erik Jendresen, the featurette "Uncovering the Truth: The Making of Killing Lincoln," and an interview with author O'Reilly among the supplements.
"Major Crimes: The Complete First Season" (Warner) reworks the TNT original series "The Closer" with Mary McDonnell taking charge of the crack Major Crimes squad. I confess that Kira Sedgewick was my least favorite part of "The Closer," so I find that I prefer this incarnation with McDonnell's Captain Sharon Raydor as the smart, savvy, soft-spoken, and far less eccentric team leader of the squad. The team is essentially the same (only a single player has been swapped out in the revision) and the chemistry intact, made a little more interesting as they work through the tentative new working relationship. DVD, 10 episodes on three discs,
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The film that made Bruce Lee an international icon gets remastered for a new special edition on Blu-ray and DVD
"Enter the Dragon: 40th Anniversary" (Warner)
After years of supporting roles in Hollywood, American citizen Bruce Lee became a worldwide star in Hong Kong with a handful of hard-edged martial arts thrillers. He returned to conquer his adopted homeland with this American/Hong Kong co-production, a glorified B-movie mix of kung-fu fighting (choreographed by Lee himself) and James Bond intrigue (the plot has more than a passing resemblance to "Dr. No") elevated by the charismatic presence and graceful but deadly moves of the lean, wiry martial arts master.
Lee stars as a British agent sent to compete in an international martial arts tournament sponsored by a bloodthirsty Asian crimelord Han (Shih Kien), using his cover to infiltrate the criminal empire. The Americans were apparently worried that an Asian unknown could carry a Hollywood film so actors / champion martial artists John Saxon and Jim Kelly were cast as maverick American competitors, but Lee is the show here. Director Robert Clouse uses the tournament setting to fill the film with a roll call of martial arts styles and he ends the film with twin spectacles: a huge free-for-all battle outside, while Lee takes on the claw-fisted Han in a brutal one-on-one battle in a hall of mirrors battle. Lee narrows his eyes and tenses into a wiry force of sinew, speed, and ruthless determination.
The film that kicked off the worldwide martial arts movie craze and made a legend of Bruce Lee, who sadly had little time to use his newly minted fame to make his dream projects. He died before finishing his next film, "Game of Death."
"Enter the Dragon" debuted on Blu-ray in 2007 but it was newly remastered for the release. The independently-produced film was not a polished studio piece, it was a little down and dirty and looked it. The new transfer is bolder, brighter, and has more detail, but it is still a martial arts picture from 1973. The soundtrack is remastered in DTS-HD 5.1.
The Blu-ray and DVD editions both include three new featurettes. The 26-minute "No Way as Way" features vintage interviews with Bruce Lee along with new interviews from the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, George Takei, and Lee’s widow Linda Lee Cadwell. "Wing Chun" is a 20-minute introduction to the style martial arts that Lee first practiced, and "Return to Han's Island" is a 10-minute tour of the film's Hong Kong locations.
See a trailer for "No Way as Way" after the jump. Click on "More" below.
Carried over from the previous release is commentary by producer Paul Heller, a collection of interviews with Linda Lee Cadwell, home movie footage of Bruce Lee working out, and five vintage Bruce Lee documentaries: "Blood and Steel: The Making of Enter the Dragon" (2004), "Bruce Lee: Curse of the Dragon" (1993) narrated by George Takei, John Little’s excellent feature length portrait "Bruce Lee: A Warriors Journey" (2000) and his earlier "Bruce Lee: In His Own Words" (1998), culled from archival interviews with Lee, plus the original 1973 promotional featurette.
Along with the video extras is a little booklet with excerpts and behind-the-scene photos from David Freidman's upcoming book "Enter the Dragon: A Photographic Journey" and an envelope with postcards and other little collectibles.
Plus Dwayne Johnson is a 'Snitch,' Quentin Dupieux's film is 'Wrong,' 'The Taste of Money' from South Korea, and more
James Franco plays "Oz the Great and Powerful" (Disney) in the adventure fantasy directed by Sam Raimi, an adaptation of the Frank L. Baum novel that plays out as a prequel to the classic "The Wizard of Oz." Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams play the witches of Oz in this lavish production, originally released in 3D, and are more interesting characters than the shallow huckster who grows into a hero.
"There's maybe three-fifths of an inspired and sometimes nearly great movie within the 130-or-so minutes of "Oz the Great and Powerful," which makes the two-fifths or so that fall flat (and they fall very flat indeed) that much more lamentable," opines MSN film critic Glenn Kenny.
"James Franco, while possessed of good features and a twinkly smile, is largely not very good as the wizard or wizard-to-be…. Once all the players are in proper position for a showdown, though, "Oz the Great and Powerful" really picks up, as does Franco. The last half hour of the movie is one of the most thrilling mixes of action, effects, 3-D technology and just overall breathtaking cinema storytelling in the fantasy genre that I've seen in quite some time. "
Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, and DVD, with the ten-minute featurette "Walt Disney and the Road to Oz" and bloopers. The Blu-ray editions includes more supplements: "My Journey in Oz, by James Franco," a 22-minute video journal directed by Franco; "Before Your Very Eyes: From Kansas to Oz," on the look of the film; "China Girl and the Suspension of Disbelief," "Metamorphosis," and "Mr. Elfman's Musical Concoctions." More supplements are available via the "Second Screen Experience" (which requires an iPad or other media device, a downloadable app and a connection to the same WiFi network as the Blu-ray player), and for the 3D release you have to access all the supplements through the bonus digital edition, which may be frustrating for viewers who just want to flip through the disc menu.
A clip from "My Journey in Oz, by James Franco" is included after the jump. Click on "More" below.
"Snitch" (Summit) sends trucking company owner Dwayne Johnson undercover as a drug smuggler to get a Mexican cartel and save his son from a federal prison sentence. ""Snitch" never gets quite pumping as an action film, but it's more than serviceable as a thriller and a drama punctuated with believable tension and real-world stakes," recommends film critic Kate Erbland for MSN. "Packaged together, "Snitch" is far better and more compelling that it needs to be, an unexpectedly drama-driven would-be action outing." Barry Pepper, Benjamin Bratt, and Susan Sarandon co-star.
Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary by director Ric Roman Waugh and editor Jonathan Chibnall, the multi-part "Privileged Information: The Making of Snitch," and deleted scenes. The Blu-ray features 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
"Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" (Paramount) stars Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as fairy tale character grown up into fantasy warriors. You can find an exclusive clip here, along with more information on the film and on the disc and digital releases.
Indies and oddities:
"Wrong" (Drafthouse) is a film that puts its aesthetic in the title. Directed by Quentin Dupieux, who made the killer tire movie "Rubber," this story of a man's search for his missing dog takes the audience into a surreal world where only the enigmatic Master Chang (William Fichtner) seems to know what's going on, or at least makes a good show of it. MSN film critic Kate Erbland calls it "a conceptual curio purely for hardcore cinephiles…. Most of "Wrong" zips along light-heartedly and with the maximum of mirth, and it's perhaps one of the best purely cinematic diversions to hit screens in quite some time."
Blu-ray and DVD with three featurettes and a 20-page booklet. The Blu-ray also includes a bonus digital copy for download.
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Aaron Sorkin plants his brand of workplace humor and liberal politics at HBO
I don't know if there has been a recent series as frustrating as "The Newsroom: The Complete First Season" (HBO), Aaron Sorkin's HBO original series set at a cable news channel that is remarkably idealistic and full of brilliant people who have sharp political instincts and poor impulse control. You know, the kind of workplace that Sorkin loves to play in.
Jeff Daniels is veteran news anchor Will MacAvoy, an old pro who has lost his mojo through apathy and then loses his staff after an otherwise routine appearance devolves into a public meltdown which, of course, goes viral. His rehabilitation comes with new crew, including a sharp producer and TV journalist (Emily Mortimer) who happens to be his former girlfriend, and a newly revamped show that wants to promote real journalist over sound-bite news entertainment. But what really gets his blood up and his editorial knives sharpened is the rise of the Tea Party. Because, in Sorkin's fantasy world, self-described Republican MacAvoy is determined to save the soul of his party by revealing the hypocrisy and idiocy of the so-called grass-roots movement.
Sorkin takes writing credit on all ten episodes of the debut season so there's no question who deserves the credit and the blame for what does and doesn't work in the series. He doesn't just wears his politics on his sleeve, he lets it dribble down his shirt, soil his pants, and soak his socks. MacAvoy is tetchy, sarcastic, and often insufferable, but his moral compass is always pointing in Sorkin's direction, and he lets his sanctimony fly just as free as the eccentricities of his characters: a dewy-eyed production assistant (Allison Pill) who acts like a goofy small town girl when she's not involved in high-stakes reporting, a crack researcher obsessed with crackpot theories (Dev Patel), and Mortimer herself, who turns to pudding whenever her emotions rise to the surface, which is often.
Sorkin's shows have always celebrated intelligence, ingenuity, and professionalism. Smart is attractive in his world, which is not always the case in TV drama, so it's especially frustrating when Sorkin has such smart people repeatedly make stupid decisions constantly through the series, shutting down their minds to act impulsively on their instincts as if they have no self-control whatsoever. It takes a crisis for this crew to put emotion aside and focus on the job, and in those moments they are a crack team. And yet, his affection for these characters is hard to resist, and for all the stupid screwball complication that such smart folks should never make, he spikes the scripts with wit and intelligence. The schizophrenic quality of it all is frustrating, but when it clicks, it's marvelous.
Ten episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on five episodes with various iterations of creator Aaron Sorkin (on four tracks), executive producer Alan Poul, and cast members Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston, Emily Mortimer, Olivia Munn, Alison Pill, and Thomas Sadoski, plus featurettes. "The Rundown" is a 25-minute roundtable discussion with Sorkin, Poul, co-executive producer Greg Mottola, and actors Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, and Sam Waterston discussing their first season experiences. The five-minute "Mission Control" is a promo-style behind-the-scenes piece, and there are shorter "Behind the Episode" featurettes for each episode, plus a few deleted scenes.
The Blu-ray also features bonus copies of the complete season on DVD (on two double-sided discs), digital download (via iTunes, Vudu or Amazon), and UltraViolet digital copy.
The new season begins on HBO in July.
Jeremy Renner talks about the world of the movie in the MSN exclusive clip
"Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" (Paramount) continues Hollywood's love affair with fairy tales and fantasies reworked for a modern audiences with offbeat twists, oddball humor, and / or unexpected imagery.
In this case, there is quite the gore factor as Hansel and Gretel, now grown up and played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, dressed in in leather armor and armed with steampunk weapons, dispatch wicked witches and other monsters preying on the hamlets of medieval Germany.
The film was critically lambasted (MSN film critic Kat Murphy writes that "it has all the terror and suspense and visual pizzazz of a downscale video game for dull-eyed teens happy to lap up lame wisecracks and lots of gore") but it became a surprise hit for its mix of self-aware humor and flying viscera (which is even more impressive in 3D).
"Is "Hansel & Gretel" a misunderstood camp horror blast, or just an odd, overdone misfire?" asks Don Kaye, editor of MSN's Parallel Universe. I opt for the latter but Kaye leaves the question open in his interview with director Tommy Wirkola.
On Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, and DVD. The two Blu-ray editions feature an unrated version of the film that runs 10 minutes longer and three featurettes: "Reinventing Hansel & Gretel," "The Witching Hours," and "Meet Edward the Troll," plus a bonus copy of the film on DVD, a digital copy of the film for portable media players, an UltraViolet digital copy for download and instant streaming.
Also available On Demand, VOD, and at Redbox.
MSN has an exclusive clip from the supplements featuring Jeremy Renner discussing the world of the movie created by the filmmakers.
Ten weeks of non-fiction features direct from the festival circuit to HBO
"Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer," a portrait of the Russian feminist art collective who became international figures when they were arrested and tried on charges of religious hatred, won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Punk Spirit at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
It also kicks off HBO's ten-week summer documentary series, which presents a new documentary feature every Monday night through August 12.
HBO has become one of the godfathers of documentary filmmaking, funding numerous projects every year by both new and established filmmakers, many of which end up winning awards on the film festival circuit and even occasionally securing a theatrical release before they show on the pay cable channel.
Like "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer," which played theaters in New York and Los Angeles earlier this year. "It's Pussy Riot's aim to provoke—you don't give yourselves a name like that unless you want to attract attention," writes Village Voice film critic Stephanie Zacharek. "But the official government response affirms that what the group did—pull on some popsicle-colored balaclavas to jump around on an altar for a few minutes—is genuinely subversive. It struck a nerve, and the wound still stings."
The HBO Documentaries summer series continues on June 17 with "Love, Marilyn," a new portrait of the icon using rare footage, audiotapes, and recently discovered Marilyn Monroe letters and diaries from Academy Award nominee Liz Garbus ("The Farm: Angola USA"), followed by:
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